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George Herbert Mead: The Self, ''Me'' & ''I''

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  • 0:04 Social Self Theory
  • 1:14 Development Of Self
  • 2:19 Two Sides Of Self: Me & I
  • 3:45 The Looking-Glass Self
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
How does one define self? This lesson will help answer that question by exploring the theory of self, differentiating between the concepts of 'me' and 'I' and describing the concept of looking-glass self.

Social Self Theory

George Herbert Mead, a sociologist from the late 1800s, is well known for his theory of the social self, which includes the concepts of 'self,' 'me,' and 'I.' In this lesson, we will explore Mead's theory and gain a better understanding of what is meant by the terms 'me' and 'I.' We will also discuss the concept, derived out of Mead's work, of the looking-glass self.

Mead's work focuses on the way in which the self is developed. Mead's theory of the social self is based on the perspective that the self emerges from social interactions, such as observing and interacting with others, responding to others' opinions about oneself, and internalizing external opinions and internal feelings about oneself. The social aspect of self is an important distinction because other sociologists and psychologists of Mead's time felt that the self was based on biological factors and inherited traits. According to Mead, the self is not there from birth, but it is developed over time from social experiences and activities.

Development of Self

According to Mead, three activities develop the self: language, play, and games.

Language develops self by allowing individuals to respond to each other through symbols, gestures, words, and sounds. Language conveys others' attitudes and opinions toward a subject or the person. Emotions, such as anger, happiness, and confusion, are conveyed through language.

Play develops self by allowing individuals to take on different roles, pretend, and express expectation of others. Play develops one's self-consciousness through role-playing. During role-play, a person is able to internalize the perspective of others and develop an understanding of how others feel about themselves and others in a variety of social situations.

Games develop self by allowing individuals to understand and adhere to the rules of the activity. Self is developed by understanding that there are rules in which one must abide by in order to win the game or be successful at an activity.

Two Sides of Self: Me & I

According to Mead's theory, the self has two sides or phases: 'me' and 'I.'

The 'me' is considered the socialized aspect of the individual. The 'me' represents learned behaviors, attitudes, and expectations of others and of society. This is sometimes referred to as the generalized other. The 'me' is considered a phase of the self that is in the past. The 'me' has been developed by the knowledge of society and social interactions that the individual has gained.

The 'I', therefore, can be considered the present and future phase of the self. The 'I' represents the individual's identity based on response to the 'me.' The 'I' says, 'Okay. Society says I should behave and socially interact one way, and I think I should act the same (or perhaps different),' and that notion becomes self.

The 'me' and the 'I' have a didactic relationship, like a system of checks and balances. The 'me' exercises societal control over one's self. The 'me' is what prevents someone from breaking the rules or boundaries of societal expectations. The 'I' allows the individual to still express creativity and individualism and understand when to possibly bend and stretch the rules that govern social interactions. The 'I' and the 'me' make up the self.

The Looking-Glass Self

Sociologist Charles Cooley built on the work of Mead with his concept of the looking-glass self. The looking-glass self is made up of three stages of behavioral and personality development. According to Cooley, one's self takes time to develop. Self begins to develop after birth and continues throughout a person's life through the following stages: imagining, interpreting, and developing self-concept.

Imagining occurs when an individual judges the way they act and appear through the views of family and friends. For example, my mom sees me this way. My friends see me this way. My teachers see me this way. Initially, these views make up a person's self-concept. This can be seen as the 'this is how I must appear to others' stage.

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