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George Herbert Mead

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Best Known For:

  • Founder of Pragmatism
  • Pioneered the development of symbolic interaction perspective
  • One of the founders of social psychology

Birth:

George Herbert Mead was born February 27, 1863.

Death:

He died April 26, 1931.

Early Life, Education, and Career:

George Herbert Mead was born in South Hadley, Massachusetts. He attended Oberlin College and graduated in 1883 with a BA degree. After working as a grade school teacher and surveyor for a railroad company, he enrolled at Harvard University in 1887 studying philosophy and sociology. He graduated with a Master’s degree in 1888. Mead obtained a post at the University of Michigan in 1891 where he met Charles Horton Cooley and John Dewey, both of whom would influence his work greatly. In 1984, Mead moved to the University of Chicago where he taught until his death.

Mead's Theory Of The Self:

George Herbert Mead is well-know for his theory of the social self, which is based on the central argument that the self is a social emergent. The social conception of the self entails that individual selves are the products of social interaction and not the logical or biological preconditions of that interaction. It is not initially there at birth, but arises in the process of social experience and activity.

According to Mead, there are three activities through which the self is developed: Language, play, and game. Language allows individuals to take on the “role of the other” and allows people to respond to his or her own gestures in terms of the symbolized attitudes of others. During play, individuals take on the roles of other people and pretend to be those other people in order to express the expectations of significant others. This process of role-playing is key to the generation of self-consciousness and to the general development of the self. In the game, the individual is required to internalize the roles of all others who are involved with him or her in the game and must comprehend the rules of the game.

Mead’s concept of the “generalized other” is also essential to his theory, which he defines as an organized and generalized attitude of a social group. The individual defines his or her own behavior with reference to the generalized attitude of the social group(s) they occupy. When the individual can view himself or herself from the standpoint of the generalized other, self-consciousness in the full sense of the term is attained.

George Herbert Mead is also well-known for his concept of the “I” and the “me.” According to Mead, the self has two sides. The “me” represents the expectations and attitudes of others (the generalized other). It is the organized set of attitudes of others that the individual assumes. The “I” is the response to the “me,” or the person’s individuality. According to Mead, the generalized other (internalized in the “me”) is the major instrument of social control for it is the mechanism by which the community exercises control over the conduct of its individual members.

Major Publications

  • Mind, Self, and Society (1934)
  • The Philosophy of the Act (1938)
  • The Philosophy of the Present (1932)

References

Major Theorists of Symbolic Interactionism: George Herbert Mead. (2011). http://sobek.colorado.edu/SOC/SI/si-mead-bio.htm

Johnson, A. (1995). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

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