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Mead, George Herbert

Page history last edited by Linnea 15 years, 7 months ago


George Herbert Mead wrote about the development of the individual self as an expression of an interaction with social processes.  His students would refer to this as symbolic interaction. Through symbolic interaction, or the communication through symbols, meaning, language, and thought are the center for concern if one wants to make conclusions about a person's self and socialization in the larger community. According to Mead, meaning is not inherent in objects; it was not existent in the state of nature. Meaning is negotiated through the use of language. The ways in which individuals choose to interpret meanings or symbols is modified by thought. The ability that humans have to engage in an inner dialog, a sort of self talk, and the ability of taking the role of the other inside of our minds, enables one to have conversations to process the self. The “self” is defined as consciousness, an experience with and of one’s self. The “self” is both the object of thinking and the thinker.


Mead's concept of the self was broken into two aspects; the "I" and the "me". The “me” is what is molded through socialization and by society. In this aspect of the “self”, a person defines themselves as what others define them as. For example, if someone were to think “I am a little girl”, this would be a definition that was constructed socially. That little girl would only know that they are a little girl through the reactions and interaction that she has with society. Her mother projects the ‘young’ and ‘little’ onto her, and her parents, teachers and peers alert her to the fact that she is considered a girl and not a boy.


The “I” is what reacts to society. It is “the response of the individual to the attitude of the community" (225). In other words, if that little girl in the previous example were to contemplate society’s opinion of her and decide that she actually feels more like a boy, she would have a reaction. Her “I” in that instance would actually be to rebel against society’s views. Her “me” would be a girl (what society thinks), her “I” would be a boy (what she thinks after taking into account society’s view).


Both of those parts of the “self” are dependent on society. As Mead says, “We are not born with the sense of self. Rather, selves arise in interaction with others. I can only experience myself in relation to others; absent interaction with others, I cannot be a self...I cannot emerge as someone.”



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