Human consciousness and the social self. Caroline Howarth. “we are incomplete or unfinished animals who complete or finish ourselves through culture” Geertz, 1993. The self is born in social interaction. The generalised other. Dialogical self. If culture produces the self:
“we are incomplete or unfinished animals who complete or finish ourselves through culture” Geertz, 1993
The generalised other
If culture produces the self:
What happens when culture transforms?
- Hermans; Howarth
Zazzo (1975): Chimps and apes brought up in isolation cannot recognise themselves in a mirror.
The Greek word ‘idiot’ originally meant someone who lived by himself and therefore was mentally incompetent.
Feral children demonstrate the vital importance of human relationships for the development of human psychological capacities.
Hence the psychological does not and cannot develop outside of the social.
a) Becoming self-conscious: through speech
b) Taking the role of the other: in games
c) The ‘I’ and the ‘me’: connected in dialogue
Individualisation is the outcome, not the antithesis, of socialisation.
The conversation of gestures is the social matrix out of which mind and awareness of self as an object in the social world of others emerges both phylogenetically and ontogenetically.
Through speech we hear ourselves thinking – we become self conscious. Self-consciousness is the ability to take the role of others with respect to oneself.
Reflexiveness is the essential condition, within the social process, for the development of mind. (Mead, 1934, p.134)
Take on social roles of others.
Particularises the child’s perspective.
Develop a sense of otherness and therefore self
Appreciate the diverse roles of many others
Dialectic of universalism and particularism
Develop a social (collective) self-identity.
What goes on in the game goes on in the life of the child all the time. He is continually taking on the attitudes of those around him, especially the roles of those whom in some sense control him and on whom he depends.
Mead, 1967, p. 160.
1. Taking the role of others in unstructured play
2. Participating in games
3. Developing a sense of the generalized other
- is the acting body-subject
- is the spontaneous response
- gives the self the capacity to innovate
- becomes part of the ‘me’
- is the ‘I’s objectification
- is the organized set of attitudes of others
- is the vehicle of self-regulation and control
- incorporates the ‘I’
“it is because of the ‘I’ that we say that we are never fully aware of what we are, that we surprise ourselves by our own action. It is as we act that we are aware of our selves”
Mead, 1967, p. 174
Is a joint accomplishment
arises out social interaction
is never fully ‘achieved’
experiences itself only indirectly
is reflexive, self-conscious and agentic
is produced by and marked by culture
1. The self is produced through our performances in social situations. The self acts as a ‘holding company’ of multiple selves.
The production of self is constrained by social norms and expectations.
2. The self is entirely a social product, with no underlying personal core.
There is an unsocialised component of the self that drives the individual into and out social interactions and sometimes leads the individual to react against social norms.
“Whenever we look at a social establishment, … we find participants decline in some way to accept the official view of what they should be putting into and getting out of the organisation and, behind this, of what sort of self and world they are to accept for themselves … We find a multiple of homely little histories, each in its way a movement of liberty. Whenever worlds are laid on, underlives develop.”
Goffman, 1961, p. 305
Others are ready to “pounce on trifling flaws as a sign that the whole show is false” and so find “chinks in his symbolic armour”.
He took care to avoid anyone’s eye. First he had to make it clear to those potential companions of his holiday that they were no concern to him whatsoever. He stared through them, round them, over them – eyes lost in space. The beach might have been empty. If by chance a ball was thrown his way, he looked surprised: then let a smile of amusement light his face (Kindly Preedy), looked around dazed to see that there were people on the beach, tossed it back with a smile to himself and not a smile at the people … (He) then gathered his beach wrap and bag into a neat sand-resistant pile (Methodical and Sensible Preedy), rose to stretch his huge frame (Big-Cat Preedy), and tossed his sandals (Carefree Preedy, after all).
From Novelist William Sansom,
cited in Goffman (1959 – pp. 4- 5).
Markus and Kitayama,
European American identity projects:
Asian and African identity projects:
For Foucault the self is coerced into existence, not to become an agent but as a mechanism of control where systems of discourse work from the inside out by creating a self-regulating subject. (Foucault, 1988)
Turkle (1996; 2011)
As we absorb the views, values, and visions of others, and live out the multiple plots in which we are enmeshed, we enter a postmodern consciousness. It is a world in which we no longer experience a secure sense of self, and in which doubt is increasingly placed on the very assumption of a bounded identity with palpable attributes. What are the consequences? How are we to respond to the coming conditions?
(Gergen, 1991, p. 15 – 16).
Self is not freely constructed. It is born in dialogues ‘between’ the expectations of ‘generalised others’ and one’s spontaneous reactions.
“These dialogues are always in a macro context influenced by historical and political issues of racism, gender, imperialism and power” (Aveling and Gillespie, 2008; Bhatia, 2002).
Dominant expectations of the generalised other filter into and limit constructions of self (Howarth, 2002).
The self does not (should not) collapse into the generalised other
Dialogue promotes the possibility for difference – new ways of thinking, acting and relating. Hence dialogue also promotes agency.
The conditions for agency are both cultural and psychological.
“An individual deprived of social stimulation and support would not develop agency just as she would not develop psychological functions” (Ratner, 2000).
the psychological violence of stigma (Howarth, 2002)
Limited by relations of power and ideologies of difference
Possibilities for agency and social change