UPSC SOCIOLOGY – SOCIOLOGICAL THINKERS – Mead : Self and identity.
- Mead belonged to Chicago school.
- He believed that people had consciousness or a sense of self.
- He was highly influenced by psychological behaviorism.
- Mead offered a social+psychological theory that stood in stark contrast to the prevailing theories offered by most of the major European theorists.
- His works were central towards evolution of Symbolic Interactionism.
SELF AND IDENTITY
- His ideas were contained in his work ‘Mind, Self and Society’ 1934.
- A thinking and self-conscious individual is logically impossible in Mead’s theory without a social group.
- Thus, social group comes first and it leads to the development of self-conscious mental states.
- Self is defined by Mead as the particular ability to be both subject and object.
- Lower animals do not have selves.
- Self arises with development and through social activity and social relationships.
- It is impossible to imagine a self arising in the absence of social experiences.
- The general mechanism for development of the self is reflexivity or the ability to put ourselves unconsciously into other’s place and to act as they act.
- Hence, people are able to examine themselves as others would examine them.
- Individuals must be able to get outside themselves so that they can evaluate themselves.
- Self of an individual is a process and not a thing.
GENESIS OF THE SELF
- Mead traces the genesis of the self through two stages in childhood development:
- Play Stage
It is during this stage that children learn to take the attitude of particular or discrete others to themselves.
Although lower animals also play, only human beings play by being someone else.
They take various roles of others who are around them.
- Game Stage
The child must take the role of everyone else involved in the game, that is, take the roles of which Mead terms as the ‘generalised other’.
A definite personality starts to emerge.
Children start to learn to be able to function in organised groups and to determine what they will do within a specific group.
To have a self, one must be a member of a community and be directed by the attitudes common to the community.
When play requires only pieces of selves, the game requires a coherent self.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SELF
- At the individual level, the self allows the individual to be a more efficient member of the larger society.
- Because of the self, people are more likely to do what is expected of them in a given situation.
- The self allows for greater coordination in a society as a whole.
- Each person’s unique set of selves make him or her different from everyone else.
RELATED KEY CONCEPTS
The Gesture is in Mead’s view, the basic mechanism in the social act and in the social process.
More generally it can be physical or vocal.
It is the development of vocal gestures, especially in the form of a language that is the most important factor in making possible the distinctive development of human life.
A significant symbol is a kind of gestures which only humans can make.
Gestures become significant symbols when they arouse in the individual, who is making them, the same kind of response, they are supposed to elicit from those to whom the gestures are addressed.
Makes communication possible.
The set of vocal gestures, most likely to become significant symbols, is language.
In Mead’s theory, significant symbols perform another crucial function – they make the minds, mental processes and so on, possible.
It is deemed by Mead as a process and not a thing.
It is an inner conversation with one’s self and it is not found as a physical thing within the individual.
It develops within the social process.
Mind involves thought process oriented towards problem solving.
This is an approach in which the Sociologist tries to take an outsider’s perspective of his or her work.
The practical aspect of reflexivity is the importance of carefully documenting whatever one is doing.
This ensures that others can retrace the steps we have taken to arrive at a particular conclusion and see for themselves, if we are right.
It helps us to check and recheck our own thinking or line of argument.