SOC 2040 September 16
The Symbolic Animal
“if a lion could talk, we could not understand him...” –Ludwig Wittgenstein
Meaning: the language thats evolved is rooted in a social reality & way of life
What is the relationship between our human language, symbols, and our modern social reality?
Language’s ambiguity comes from our different social realities
George Herbert Mead
What separates humans from animals: Mead recognized animals as fully social beings like
humans. Mead argued that the fact that we use symbols in our communication (unlike
animals). Symbols are the basis for language—the word stands in for something else.
Psychological Behaviourism: assumes individuals are passive and nonreflective, no different
Social Behaviourism: investigates a “conversation of significant gestures” in which use of
symbols indicates a development of the human mind
Stimulus & Response (Psychological Behaviourism)
o Show a dog a bone, it salivates
o Mead belived that humans also experience stimulus and response, but in a more
complicated way. He believed that stimulus are symbols thrown at you to which you
can choose your response. These are significant gestures which use symbols.
Conversation of Significant Gestures
o Taking the attitude of the other in an internal conversation
Individuals shape their action on the basis of the imagined responses they
attribute to others (eg. Having an argument, going on a date)
It is not necessarily the dictionary definition of a word that matters, it is
the implications/context of a word—the intention of the speaker.
Mead maintained that that for evolutionary reasons, humans will naturally want to
communicate with eachother
o Eg, communication allows us to construct technologies that portect the species from
How is society ordered?
Self control through symbolic interaction is a form of social control---individual and
society dialectically intertwined (p