Sociology Monday: George Herbert Mead

Dropped on:February 10, 2014
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Click Here to Read:  George Herbert Read on Wikipedia.

Click Here to Read:  A large number of Mead’s publications can be found online at The Mead Project developed by Robert Throop and Lloyd Gordon Ward:

This installment of Sociology and Anthropology Monday introduces an important figure in American Pragmatism, Social Psychology and the social behaviorist theory of Mind, Self and Society (the title of his best known and posthumously published work put together on the basis of student notes). Mead (1863-1931) began from Darwinian premises concerning the evolution of life forms and examined both the continuities and discontinuities between human beings and other life forms. He was influenced by his teachers at Harvard University, the Hegelian Josiah Royce, and the pragmatist and psychologist, William James. He also studied with Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig. Mead argued that human society shared a certain continuity with other animal societies but differed from them insofar as human society was, in addition to the biological grounds upon which it rested, was founded upon a symbolic order which, once generated, was constituted on a different basis, that, to be understood in its specificity, could no longer be reduced to the biological. (Aristotle’s distinction between generation and constitution). Mead criticized other behaviorists such as J.B. Watson for not appreciating that the act cannot be understood in terms of Stimulus-Response but as part of an ongoing process of social interaction whereby the stimulus is not the given in the environment but attitudes and impulses of the individual which seek out the stimuli in the environment that set free the desired response. Thus the act is self-initiated social activity, a teleological process whereby the response of one individual serves as a stimulus for another individual involved in the same act. Mead did not accept the behaviorist elimination of “mind” but rather located it in the field of conduct that exists between the individual and the environment. Mead argued in favor of a social self, which depends on the symbolic capacity of the individual to adopt the attitudes of others toward the self. Both Mead and Charles Horton Cooley were early sociological thinkers who considered the self as a social construction. Cooley’s looking-glass self is not unrelated to the same concept first developed by Adam Smith in his celebrated Theory of Moral Sentiments. Although Mead was not interested in self-pathology, his theory of the social self might well be considered in relation to the Self Psychology of Heinz Kohut. In the hands of Mead’s student, Herbert Blumer, the Symbolic Interactionistschool of social psychology was developed and it continues to exert a powerful influence on qualitative sociology.

Cyril  Levitt

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