Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

4.2B: Sociological Theories of the Self

  • Page ID
    7969
  • [ "article:topic" ]

    Sociological theories of the self attempt to explain how social processes such as socialization influence the development of the self.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Interpret Mead’s theory of self in term of the differences between “I” and “me”

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • One of the most important sociological approaches to the self was developed by American sociologist George Herbert Mead. Mead conceptualizes the mind as the individual importation of the social process.
    • This process is characterized by Mead as the “I” and the “me. ” The “me” is the social self and the “I” is the response to the “me. ” The “I” is the individual’s impulses. The “I” is self as subject; the “me” is self as object.
    • For Mead, existence in a community comes before individual consciousness. First one must participate in the different social positions within society and only subsequently can one use that experience to take the perspective of others and thus become self-conscious.
    • Primary Socialization occurs when a child learns the attitudes, values, and actions appropriate to individuals as members of a particular culture.
    • Secondary socialization refers to the process of learning the appropriate behavior as a member of a smaller group within the larger society.
    • Group socialization is the theory that an individual’s peer groups, rather than parental figures, influences his or her personality and behavior in adulthood.
    • Organizational socialization is the process whereby an employee learns the knowledge and skills necessary to assume his or her organizational role.
    • In the social sciences, institutions are the structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human collectivity. Institutions include the family, religion, peer group, economic systems, legal systems, penal systems, language and the media.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • The self: The self is the individual person, from his or her own perspective. Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.
    • generalized other: the general notion that a person has regarding the common expectations of others within his or her social group
    • socialization: The process of learning one’s culture and how to live within it.
    • community: A group sharing a common understanding and often the same language, manners, tradition and law. See civilization.

    image

     

    George Herbert Mead: George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) was an American philosopher, sociologist, and psychologist, primarily affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he was one of several distinguished pragmatists. He is regarded as one of the founders of social psychology and the American sociological tradition in general.

    Sociological theories of the self attempt to explain how social processes such as socialization influence the development of the self. One of the most important sociological approaches to the self was developed by American sociologist George Herbert Mead. Mead conceptualizes the mind as the individual importation of the social process. Mead presented the self and the mind in terms of a social process. As gestures are taken in by the individual organism, the individual organism also takes in the collective attitudes of others, in the form of gestures, and reacts accordingly with other organized attitudes.

    This process is characterized by Mead as the “I” and the “me. ” The “me” is the social self and the “I” is the response to the “me. ” In other words, the “I” is the response of an individual to the attitudes of others, while the “me” is the organized set of attitudes of others which an individual assumes. The “me” is the accumulated understanding of the “generalized other,” i.e. how one thinks one’s group perceives oneself. The “I” is the individual’s impulses. The “I” is self as subject; the “me” is self as object. The “I” is the knower, the “me” is the known. The mind, or stream of thought, is the self-reflective movements of the interaction between the “I” and the “me. ” These dynamics go beyond selfhood in a narrow sense, and form the basis of a theory of human cognition. For Mead the thinking process is the internalized dialogue between the “I” and the “me. ”

    Understood as a combination of the “I” and the “me,” Mead’s self proves to be noticeably entwined within a sociological existence. For Mead, existence in a community comes before individual consciousness. First one must participate in the different social positions within society and only subsequently can one use that experience to take the perspective of others and become self-conscious.