Generalized Other: Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 The Play & Game Stages
  • 1:36 The Generalized Other
  • 2:20 An Example
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Generalized other is a concept developed by philosopher George Herbert Mead. Learn more about generalized other from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

The Play and Game Stages

George Herbert Mead, a philosopher and one of the founders of social psychology, developed the concept of the generalized other, which is the final stage in the childhood development process. Before we reach this final stage, though, let's first briefly examine the first two developmental stages: play and game.

Mead believed that social interaction plays an important role in the development of the self. Through 'play' and 'game,' we not only develop this sense of self, but also an understanding of the social roles that surround us.

The play stage is the first stage in childhood development, in which we learn to imitate the roles of others around us, or role-play. This includes teachers, parents and close relatives. By taking on the roles of those adults who are closest to them, children develop a better understanding of adult social roles. For example, a 4-year-old boy might put on his father's hat and pretend to be his father.

The game stage is the second stage in childhood development, in which children begin to play complex games that require them to not only know and understand their own roles, but also the roles of others involved in the game and the relationships between these roles.

For example, imagine you're a child who's picked to play quarterback in a football game. You not only need to know the expectations and requirements of being a quarterback, but also what positions your teammates play and how those positions relate to yours. For example, you'll need to know that the center is the player who will snap the football to you.

The Generalized Other

The generalized other is the final stage in the childhood development process, in which children are able to not only take on the roles of others, but also take into account the attitudes and perspectives of others in their social group. The emergence of the generalized other requires the presence of some type of organized community or social system, whether it be a baseball team or an organized family system.

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