Similar to William James’ notion of “The Self and Its Selves,” George Herbert Mead explains a notion of self based on different versions self, and how the selves interact with others. Mead, however, places more emphasize on the self in relation to others as opposed to the self in relation to other versions of self (ex. social self, spiritual self, etc.).
Mead begins his theory by stating explicitly that the self and the body are distinct. He explains that the body can be altered without necessarily altering the mind, but the body cannot experience itself wholly without the mind. They two, though connected, are distinct in their existence and the role each plays.
The self, in contrast to the body, “can be both subject and object,” implying that it can have both “experience with” or “experience of” one’s self (Mead 1929, 225). Although the self can essentially be both subject and object, it is not always both simultaneously. However, without thinking of self in an objective fashion, rationality is unachievable. In order to become an object to one’s self, one must direct symbols and responses at one’s self as much as at other people during active communication.
After addressing how one views one’s self with objectivity, Mead moves on to the significance of interactions with others and how one’s selves respond to those interactions. Similar to Goffman’s “On Face-Work” and James’ “The Self and Its Selves,” Mead claims that different social experiences will illicit different versions of self, and dissociation can attributed to different “component selves” (Mead 1929, 228) that correspond to differing social processes. When the self focuses on multiple things simultaneously, the self can become divergent. If, however, one is able to forget one set of things, that self too can be forgotten (for the time being). In essence, in whatever area one is focused, only the corresponding self will exist at that particular time.
Revisiting rationality vis-à-vis objectivity, Mead states that any rational individual contributes to and experiences rational society and its statements. The participation of individuals in society brings all to the same arena; a “universal discourse” ” (Mead 1929, 228) is how then people develop and exhibit particular attitudes all as a product of rationality. Through rationality, individuals develop a generalized attitude which allows them to recognize someone else as being an “other” in society and allows one to perceive one’s self as “me.” This awareness, Mead describes, is a “self-consciousness” (1929, 228).
Furthermore and finally, the development of a self consciousness allows one to understand one’s own experiences of the attitudes of a community through a lens of “I,” and “me” is defined as “the adjustment” to the world “I” has affected or imposed upon. Mead closes the work with the following sentiment, “It is only after we have acted that we know what we have done; it is only after we have spoken that we know what we have said” (1929, 229).
- 1863-1931. Harvard with William James (few years after DuBois.) Taught at University of Michigan (1891) and University of Chicago. Mind, Self and Society (compilation of lecture notes).
- This theory of social self = important advance over James and Cooley.
- The self and the body are distinct, and the body can be altered without altering the self.
- Also, the body cannot experience itself wholly.
- The self can be a subject and an object, both “experiences with” and “experiences of” (Mead 1929, 225) can occur.
- There are situations that can occur in which self as an object doesn’t happen; without thinking of self objectively, one cannot act rationally.
- In active communication, symbols and responses are as much directed to self as they are other people.
- In this, people become objects to selves (Mead 1929, 226).
- A “double” is the distinction between self and the body, or organism. The self is prepared as able to temporarily and permanently leave the body.
- One’s self can provide solitary social experiences through gestures—checks of gestures—and dialogue with one’s self like it was another person.
- Communication is the only way a person can be an object to self; one must have inner-dialogue, the thinking, as or before he dialogues with another.
- Social experiences are responsible for determining which (of many per individual) selves comes to the table.
- Different social experiences elicit different versions of self.
- Self can become divergent if it’s focused on multiple things, and if one set of things can be forgotten, so can that self. Only, then, the remaining self will exist.
- “The structure of the complete self is thus a reflection of the complete social process” (Mead 1929, 228) and vice versa.
- Dissociation can be attributed to different “component selves” (Mead 1929, 228) corresponding to differing social processes.
- Any rational person contributes (and is free to experience) rational society and societal statements.
- A generalized attitude that recognizes someone else as being “other” in society allows one to perceive one’s self as “me.”
- One’s own experience of attitude of community constitutes “I,” and “me” is “the adjustment” (Mead 1929, 229) to the world “I” has affected or imposed upon.
- “It is only after we have acted that we know what we have done; it is only after we have spoken that we know what we have said” (Mead 1929, 229).
MEAD, GEORGE HERBERT. ca.1929. "The Self, the I, and the Me." Pp. 224-229 in Social Theory: The Multicultural Readings (2010) edited by C. Lemert. Philadelphia: Westview Press.
Original source: MEAD, GEORGE HERBERT. ca.1929. Pp. 136-144 and 195-196 in Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist edited by Charles W. Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962 .
(See Lemert 2010, 224 for “original source” citation*)
In accordance with DJJR:
- Self can be an object to itself.
- Self can either be totally absorbed in action or it can contemplate itself.
- We become an object to ourselves by analogy to how others are object to us: we take the attitude of the other.
- In communication, we figure out what to say (and what the other person meant) by taking the attitude of the other.
- Many cultures have the notion of "the double."
- Self is a "social structure": internal conversation of gestures — I condition what I say (do) on basis of how you will respond by simulating it ahead of time in my head. (226.8)
- Language/communication as paradigm. (227.1)
- Self is only social. Different selves for different others. Implication: none without others.
- "A multiple personality is in a certain sense normal…." (227.7)
- Structure of self — one's multiple selves — mirrors social structures in which one is immersed. (228.3)
- Meaning of what we do is the response of rational community to our actions.
- When we take the attitude of the other (toward ourselves), "[w]hat appears in the immediate experience…is what we term the 'me'" (228.9).
- On the other hand, the "I" is who is doing the reacting, experiencing, attending, the taking of an attitude. (229.1)
"The Self" is a unique entity in that it can be an object for itself. Mead resonates with William James in what he is zeroing in on — one thing that the self does is "have a world": it subjectively experiences attending to things, these things are "objects" of its attending/perceiving. The unique quality of the self is that it can attend to itself.
In the most basic terms, we call this self-consciousness. Mead distinguishes the "I" and the "me." The "I," we can say, is what is self-conscious, the "me" is what it is self-conscious of.
Important concepts here are taking the attitude of the other, conversation of gestures. Underlying model: I simulate world of others in my head and my interaction with these simulations allows me to figure out how to act.
Note that internalization is a key part of this, even if not explicitly mentioned.