Who is George Herbert Mead?

Who is George Herbert Mead?

June 25, 2021 Off By Felso

George Herbert Mead was born in Massachusetts in 1863.

He is an American sociologist, psychologist and philosopher. He is the founding thinker of the current of thought called symbolic interactionism.

He studied at Harvard, Leipzig and Berlin universities. Much of his academic career was spent at the University of Chicago. Among his most important works are The Mind, the Self, and Society (1934) and The Psychology of Action (1938).

Mead has developed an approach that emphasizes the importance of both objective and subjective behavior in terms of sociological thought. Mead accepted the reality of the objective world brought to the fore by structuralist and systems approaches and the role that this objective world plays on human behavior. However, Mead gave importance to the subjective interpretation of the person living in this objective world and worked on this subject. In his social psychology approach, Mead did not consider social reality as static, instead he adopted a view that comprehends social reality as a process. Therefore, according to Mead, people and social orders are in the process of becoming as incomplete phenomena (Poloma, 1993, pp.222-223).

Mead did not publish a full systematic explanation of his theory. His published works include his lecture notes and scattered texts. His works were collected and compiled after his death and he composed three books: Mind, Self and Society (1934), Movements of Thought in the 19th Century (1936), Philosophy of Action (1938).

Society consists of the interaction of people with each other. Because people interact through symbols, symbols are accepted as the basis of interaction. Thus, the sustainability of social life is based on the sharing of the meanings of symbols by the members of the society. In cases where the meanings cannot be shared in this way, communication is not possible.

As a result of successful interaction of people with each other, symbols have meanings. For interaction that enables social progress, it is necessary to share meanings by the members of the society, as well as to be able to interpret the goals of others. This process, which is possible with the existence of common symbols, is provided by the role-taking process Mead calls (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995, p.891).

In Mead’s approach, the process of taking a role is defined as putting oneself in the place of others. For example, in order for an individual to understand the meaning and purpose of another person’s laughing, crying, or waving, they must put themselves in that person’s shoes. The individual reacts to the other person’s action based on his interpretation of this observation. Thus, the individual takes the role of the people he interacts with, interprets their reactions and decides whether to continue the interaction on the basis of this interpretation.

For example, when an individual sees another person raising his fist against him, he may interpret this gesture as an indication of aggression, but this interpretation does not automatically lead the individual to act in a certain way. The individual may ignore this gesture, respond politely, try to soften the atmosphere with a joke, etc. The person with whom the individual interacts will also take his role this time and interpret the response he has given. Depending on this interpretation, the individual will either continue the interaction or terminate the interaction. In this case, the interaction of people with each other in this way can be seen as a continuous interpretation process in which the individual takes the role of the other each time (Haralambos & Holborn, 1995, p.892). The individual’s ability to think about the effect of interaction on other social actors is accepted as a distinctive feature of him.

Mead states that individuals develop the concept of “self” through the role-taking process. Individuals become aware of themselves as well as being aware of them by interacting with other people. They can also interact with themselves in the role-taking process where they put themselves in the place of others. In other words, they can look at themselves from the outside.

Subject Headings
What is symbolic interactionism?
What is Self Theory?
Me (I) and Me/Me (Me)
Stages of Self Formation
Intellectual Biography of Mead
Mead’s Understanding of Utilitarianism
Mead’s Relationship with Darwinism
Mead’s Understanding of Behaviorism
Mead’s General Philosophy
Performance Philosophy

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım