George Herbert MEAD
The I and the Me
Science and Morality
He was the first non European...this is important because Europe was the birth place of
Sociology. He came from a religious family. His father was a professor, and taught at a small
university in Ohio called Oberland college-- was mix of social ideas and strong Calvinistic
morality. He was very politically progressive and was very intelligent. Hands on experience with
engineering, if you have a problem with your design you have to relate it to the real world. He
wanted to study philosophy, so he went to Germany for his studies. At the time, Germany was
the center of intellectual life. He went to the university of Chicago in 1890s. The city was in the
midst of its cities expansion, went from a fort to being a huge city in a 60 year span. Part of
that was the opening of the university of Chicago. Wanted the university to look at the forward
looking, modern look of Chicago settlement houses- places in the city where immigrants would
come and learn skills and meet other people and would have a clean place to live. He taught and
almost created social psychology. He was not very good at writing, he was better with the verbal
flow of conversation. He never actually published a book, what we are reading is lecture notes
collected by his students. He died in 1931.
So what were his ideas?
He’s an action theorist like Weber, starting with people doing things rather than the structure of
the organization- even though his education in psych and philosophy. He created this area called
Social Psychology. and the aim was to understand how the mind - our mental life, and our self-
out understandings of our selves of different people, how both of those things are products
and outcomes of interactions of others. It’s that idea that there is a length of interaction and
developing and our sense of self and to have a mind and that is what he’s known for in
He was responding to the dominant school of that at the time called behaviourism. The main idea
of this classical behaviorism is that you can only study things that you can see, and the thing
about humans you could observe is their behavior and things that they do. It was believe that
things like your mind, your intentions, etc was impossible to see or observe. They’re like ghostsor spooks- so if you want to be scientific and want to study organisms and human beings, you
can only look at stimuli and behavior. It’s like a black box almost, you have a stimulus
(picture of black box.. with stuff in it) and leads to response... so everything that goes on in your
inner life goes into the black box and is basically crossed out because you can’t see it so you
can’t study it.
You yourself don’t know what’s going on inside of you, all you see is what you do, and anything
else you think is a factor in your actions is an illusion so all you have is stimulus and response
and your own behavior.
Mead wanted to critique that he thought there has to be something wrong, that something would
make us seem like our psych life is not real or important. But how can you think that if you see
the basic premise of science?
Mead thought what it meant was that the only way out, is to say we can observe “mind” in the
world, and we can observe self and all its emotions and plans, it’s not locked inside of you, but
it’s somehow out there in the world. He thought “Mind” was a phenomenon in the world that
we can observe. He wanted to find out a way to say that we can just study the stimulus and
response, we need to see the box by not looking in side of it, but see it through our actions, so the
solution to his problems is to see the mind in the world. We need to study X and not just
stimulation and response. The inner self, the thing that we can’t observe, it’s not basic; it’s
a secondary left over phenomenon. We need to start with people doing stuff because we know
that’s what people do in the world.
Now we try to describe his Theory of Action
Step 1: Some sort of IMPULSE- a stimulation, the organisms reactions to that. It’s the need you
feel to do something about the stimulation. Ex: being thirsty is an action of an impulse. You feel
like doing something about the problem you have, so with being thirsty, your impulse is to get a
drink. Where does it come from? Maybe from within, it’s been a while since you have had
something to drink. Or it could from the world outside, you may not be thirsty but you see a cold
glass of water, so the world can create the response in you if it wasn’t in you before. Normally
it’s a combination, in general you have an impulse that is linked up with the environment
and have a need to try to push you out there to fix the problem. The organism and the
environment are intermittently connected, each is always a phase and moment in the
other, so there is an intertwine of your desires and the world you’re in and its inseparable.
Step 2: PERCEPTION- the organism is searching for and reacting to different stimuli that relate
to the impulse, so you’re thirsty and have that impulse and you're looking for some beverage that
could help you with this problem. Perception involves sifting through the thingsyou're encountering and figuring out what the things in the world will help you with this impulse
you have. All the things in the world you narrow it down to things in the world that might be
relevant from your impulse.
Step 3: MANIPULATION- You pick up these things you perceived and test them to see if they
are going to be suitable things for helping you deal with this problem your impulse has caused.
So if you’re now thirsty and have this clear liquid, it could be poison, so you put a test to it to see
if it is or not. You’re doing work on the object before you do the final stage of the action (drink
it) to see if what I have perceived actually related to the problem that you have. Now you have an
experimental experience with objects, it’s a liquid yes, but not might satisfy your problem or
your stimulus. So that means more of the world is less defined by things that push you into an
automatic response. In other words we have a way of seeing the active mind in the world - a
mind that can be all sorts of different ways.
Step 4: CONSUMMATION- Whether or not you consummate the act, finish it. So do you drink
the water? This is the stage where you take action to the initial impulse you had. What we think
of human qualities is an evolutionary outcome.
So that was Meads Theory of Action. How does it differ from Weber? Because he was thinking
of action, the meaning of an action. You walk to church but what does it mean? What purpose
does it serve? Does it get you closer to salvation or power? These purposes have the subjective
meaning to the behavior that is what Weber was interested in. Mead was thinking less about the
meaning of the action, but more about the PROCESS of the action**
It’s the developmental process that Mead is interested in, starting from process, your initial plan
or intention will change in the course of action, vs. starting from Weber, with the meaning of the
Basically we’ve been talking about before how there is only one person involved... not likely
because what we do is in relation to what other people do, soc is interested in that too, but you
define what you are doing in relationship with other people. This is called social acts. Wanted to
understand them by building them from their basic elements. In the process of this interaction,
the mind emerges as a result rather than a starting point so the mind is an outcome of action,
rather than a beginning most basic starting point of interaction.
Abilities that let interaction occur are from:
1. GESTURES - Movements of the first organism which acts as stimuli to the second
organism. So this is not just about human beings, this is about animals too so what this
means is that animals can make movements with their bodies that evoke appropriate or
inappropriate actions that have responses. The act of each dog becomes a stimulus to the
other dog. So for example, Dogs attacking-- one dog is drinking and another dog goes for water in the same bowl. The first dog is just doing his thing, but then there’s a new
stimulus he has to deal with because the second dog is gesturing that he’s mad.. the one
dog doing something will evoke the behavior of the other dog and make a response, so
he is growling back- so it’s simply sending a signal back and forth and will show you
what will happen if certain gestures are done. It makes up a “Conversation of gestures”.
You can have a convo with gestures that show what you’re going to do and they will
react from these gestures. Conversation of gestures is the back and forth process, the
whole relationship is taking place at that level without the intervention of abstract
thought. A lot of human life takes place at this level too. Ex: boxing, you have a lot of
happening before you actually hit the guy- you have all this interaction happening
without words. They are non-significant gestures, don’t require a lot of thought.
Someone’s going to hit you so you duck.
2. SIGNIFICANT SYMBOLS- A kind of gesture. You’re moving and doing things that
involve much more thought of the part making it, and the person responding to it, so
interpretation becomes a key part in the gesture. This is what he calls VOCAL
GESTURES- you’re making a gesture, but with your vocal cords. Ex: a dog growling-
what’s the difference between vocal and moving your body? Think about the difference
between facial gesture when you mak