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Definition of the situation


The term definition of the situation has come to signify the Thomas theorem, the idea expressed by W.I Thomas. He says, “ if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”. That is when the phrase is used, it carries with it the connotation of the whole theorem. The phase definition of the situation predates Thomas’s theorem. The most general conceptualization seems to be related to the concept of norms and culture. The interpretation of collective norms is important for all social action. It is only in certain situations where the agent chooses to redefine the norms. Park and Burgess refers to a Carnegie study where the term is used to discuss the topic of assimilation to American society in terms of Americanization: common participation in common activities implies a common definition of the situation. Every single act and all moral life are dependent upon the definition of the situation. A definition of the situation precedes and limits any possible action, and a redefinition of the situation changes the character of the action. Merton focuses on the false definition of the situation which leads to the behavior that then makes the original false belief seem true. The self -fulfilling prophecy is a subset of the definition of the situation not the other way around. The Thomas theorem can also be interpreted as a contribution to general sociology. He did not mean that all human choice is limited to social constructions. Many definitions are real due to group pressures. Thomas’s contribution is a reminder that there are times when the objective consequences of holding a false belief can be very real. His ideas are not restricted to symbolic interaction but overlaps with other approaches.