George Herbert Mead


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Mead, George Herbert

 

Born Feb. 27, 1863, in South Hadley, Mass.; died Apr. 4, 1931, in Chicago, III. American idealist philosopher and social psychologist.

Mead graduated from Harvard University, studied philosophy and psychology in Germany, and in 1894 became a professor at the University of Chicago. A follower of W. James and J. Dewey, Mead belonged, with Dewey, to the Chicago school, which elaborated the principles of pragmatism.

In the spirit of pragmatism, Mead viewed consciousness as the means by which an individual adapts to his environment; he considered the world of objects from the point of view of their importance to the behavior of the individual. The interaction of people in groups, according to Mead, gives rise to a world of artificial object symbols. In the process of socialization the individual masters the meanings of these symbols and with their help learns to direct his actions consciously, weaving them into a broader social act. The development of an individual into a mature personality is characterized by the increased ability to coordinate his own behavior with the actions of his partners and to assume the role allotted to him in the group. The structure of the human “I,” in Mead’s view, reflects the structure of the individual’s interactions in various groups. Society shapes the individual’s self-concept, entering within him, as it were, and guiding his actions along the proper lines. With the emergence of a developed “I” in the individual, the external social control is internalized and becomes self-control, as a result of which a person becomes a responsible individual capable of performing his or her role in the context of symbolic interactions of the group or of society as a whole.

Mead’s social theory influenced the subsequent study of the problems of personality, socialization, and social control and was the basis for the trend in social research called symbolic interactionism. The refusal to analyze the essential content of social interaction has limited the application of Mead’s theory to the study of direct interpsychological contacts, that is, to a sociopsychological approach to social phenomena. Therefore, attempts to present it as a general sociological theory, equally useful in describing interpersonal interaction and global processes, are unfounded.

WORKS

The Philosophy of the Present. Chicago, 1932.
The Philosophy of the Act. Chicago, 1934.
Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago, 1934.
Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago, 1950.
The Social Psychology of George Herbert Mead. Edited by A. Strauss. Chicago, 1956.
Selected Writings. New York, 1964.

REFERENCE

Kon, I. S., and D. N. Shalin. “D. G. Mid i problema chelovecheskogo la.” Voprosy filosofii, no. 12, 1969.

D. N. SHALIN

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Hans Joas, professor of sociology at the Free University of Berlin, is probably Germany's leading student of the work of George Herbert Mead, as the author of an important study of Mead's intellectual development as well as the editor of his collected essays.(1) Building on the interest in pragmatism earlier awakened by social philosophers Jurgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel, Joas has helped solidify Mead's German reputation as one of the greats of classic sociological theory.(2) Fluent in the philosophical traditions of both Germany and the United States, Joas is a thoughtful interpreter of their significance for sociological theory.
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