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SOC4044 Sociological Theory: George Herbert Mead. George Herbert Mead. References Coser, Lewis A. 1977. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context . 2d ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

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SOC4044 Sociological Theory: George Herbert Mead


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soc4044 sociological theory george herbert mead

SOC4044 Sociological Theory:George Herbert Mead

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead
George Herbert Mead

References

Coser, Lewis A. 1977. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Perdue, William D. 1986. Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and Ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Turner, Jonathan H., Leonard Beeghley, and Charles H. Powers. 2002. The Emergence of Sociological Theory. 5th ed. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead3
George Herbert Mead
  • 1863-1931
  • Born in Massachusetts

during the Civil

War

  • Father was a minister, descended from a long line of Puritan farmers and clergymen
  • Father taught at Oberlin College (Ohio)
  • Mead attended Oberlin College

(Coser 1977:341)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead4
George Herbert Mead

Mead published relatively little…his theoretical work primarily exists within Mind, Self, and Society (Mead 1934)…a posthumous publication.

(Coser 1977:333; Turner, Beeghley, and Powers 2002:455)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead5
George Herbert Mead

Social psychology for Mead is the discipline that:

“…studies the activity or behavior of the individual as it lies within the social process. The behavior of the individual can be understood only in terms of the behavior of the whole social group of which he is a member, since his individual acts are involved in larger, social acts which go beyond himself and which implicate the other members of the group.”

(Coser 1977:334; Mead 1934:6-7)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead6
George Herbert Mead

While earlier social psychology had dealt with social experience from the individual psychological standpoint, Mead suggested that individual experience be dealt with “from the standpoint of society, at least from the standpoint of communication as essential to the social order.”

(Coser 1977:334; Mead 1934:1)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead7
George Herbert Mead

Mead argued that there can be no self apart from society, no consciousness of self and no communication.

In its turn, society must be understood as a structure that emerges through an ongoing process of communicative social acts, through transactions between persons who are mutually oriented toward each other.

(Coser 1977:334)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead8
George Herbert Mead

Mead saw in gesture the key mechanism through which social acts are effected. But he sharply separates nonsignificant (unself-conscious) gestures, as found on the animal level, from the significant (self-conscious) gestures that characterize most human intercourse.

(Coser 1977:334)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead9
George Herbert Mead

For Mead and later symbolic interactionists, language is the distinguishing criterion for being human. 

Mead believed that if one's actions evoke the same response in others, then the meaning of symbols is not longer private but a behavioral reality that can be studied.

(Perdue 1986:237)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

Mead's conception of mindis that of a "social phenomenon--arising and developing within the social process, within the empirical matrix of social interactions."

(Mead 1934:133; Perdue 1986:237)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society11
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

Not  only does the mind emerge through such exchange, its nature is that of an internal process of communication grounded in the utilization of significant symbols. Hence, the mind is processually formed through interactions with others and self-conversation. Symbols, considered significant only when shared with others, dominate the process. For human beings, the most vital and distinctive symbolic communication is language bound. Or in Mead's words, "out of language emerges the field of mind.“

(Mead 1934:133; Perdue 1986:237)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society12
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society
  • The conception of mind as process rather than product means that consciousness is not a simple captive of external forces. Rather, it is an active and creative force constantly changing and growing... Nor does its nature simply reflect an imitation of the behavior of others or fixed responses (whether learned or instinctual) to external bounds. The process rather is one of sifting selectively through an ongoing barrage of signals and forming "definitions of the situation“ (Perdue 1986:237)
  • Consciousness [mind] is not given; it is emergent (Coser 1977:335).

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society13
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

In what ways, then, does language make mind possible?...For Mead, mind involves several behavioral capacities:

  • The capacity to denote objects in the environment with significant symbols
  • The capacity to use these symbols as a stimulus to one’s own response
  • The capacity to read and interpret the gestures of others and use these as a stimulus for one’s response
  • The capacity to temporarily suspend or inhibit overt behavior responses to one’s own gestural denotations or those of others
  • The capacity to “imaginatively rehearse” alternative lines of conduct, visualize their consequences, and select the response that will facilitate adjustment to the environment

(Turner, Beeghley, and Powers 2002:459-460)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society14
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

The  second component in Mead's trilogy is termed self. The self also "arises in social experience," can be thought of as "an object to itself," and possesses a "social structure" (Mead 1934:140). This suggests that individuals can conceive of their own being and convert that identity into a form of consciousness. So conceived, the self can be the recipient of both definition and emotion. Symbolic communication is of course crucial to the development of answers to the question Who am I? In consistent fashion, Mead argued that the self is best thought of as a process, and he traced its genesis developmentally. 

(Perdue 1986:237-238)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society15
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

The development of the self is dependent on learning to take the role of the other. In turn, role taking requires that we imagine how our behavior will be defined from the standpoint of others. For Mead, role taking occurs throughout the developmental process by which the self is constructed and refined. And this process consists of three distinctive phases. From a period of imitation without meaning for infants, through the play-acting world of children, and finally to the phase of the generalized other, the self expands, changes, becomes. 

(Perdue 1986:238)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society16
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

For the very young, role playing is simply a matter of doing what others do. In time, however, the child begins to play "pretend" roles such as parent, sibling, even the imaginary friend, In this course of switching identities and imaginary conversations, the self through play becomes both separate and defined. The child is learning to see a unique self from the various perspectives of other role players. 

(Perdue 1986:238)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society17
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

When at a later point, egocentric play gives way to the rules and "teamwork" of games, the individual learns that the behaviors of other players are somewhat fixed, impersonal, and predictable. In playing the multiple and interlocking roles of the game, and other organized endeavors, self-control emerges. Through such play, one develops and internalizes a group of perspective on the self that Mead termed the "generalized other." To the extent that this collective frame of reference matures, the player becomes a social being who will demonstrate some consistency in future behavior (Mead 1934:150-163). Thus, the "inner voice" of the generalize other continues to whisper the complex requirements of being "human." 

(Perdue 1986:238)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society18
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

The essence of the self, according to Mead, is its reflexivity. The individual self is individual only because of its relation to others.

(Coser 1977:337)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society19
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

In the lifelong context of interdependent action, two dimensions of the self emerge, are formed and reformed. In one, the individual develops an identify in response to the attitudes of others. Such a response emanates from the solitary individual's definition of the situation. In the other, one assumes the "organized set of attitudes of others" (Mead 1934:175). This component of the self provides the rules for the actual response. For these dimensions, Mead employed the concepts "I" and "Me," respectively. It is the latter that comes with the internalization of the generalized other.

(Perdue 1986:238) 

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society20
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

Both “I” and “me” necessarily relate to social experience. But the “I” is the response of the organism to the attitudes of the others; the “me” is the organized set of attitudes of others which one assumes.

“We are,” Mead writes, “individuals born into a certain nationality, located at a certain spot geographically, with such and such family relations, and such and such political relations. All of these represent a certain situation which constitutes the ‘me’; but this necessarily involves a continued action of the organism toward the ‘me.’”

(Coser 1977:338; Mead 1934:182)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society21
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

Society[the third component] in Mead's system is little more than an extension of his "organized self."More precisely, the self through interaction takes on "generalized social attitudes" toward a wider environment. Such references are beyond the immediate spheres of personal relationships, intimate groups, or communities.

(Perdue 1986:238) 

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society22
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

For Mead, the institution of society consist of "common responses" rooted in such attitudes by which "the modern civilized human individual is and feels himself to be a member not only of a certain local community or state or nation, but also of an entire given race or even civilization as a "whole."

(Mead 1934:273; Perdue 1986:238) 

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender

george herbert mead mind self and society23
George Herbert Mead:Mind, Self, and Society

Society is thus maintained by virtue of humans’ ability to role-take and to assume the perspective of generalized others.

(Turner, Beeghley, and Powers 2002:472)

© 2001-2006 by Ronald Keith Bolender