Mead GeorgeHerbert(1863-1931), US Pragmatist philosopher, sociologist and social psychologist, based at the University of Chicago, whose approach to sociology is today most identified with SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM. Mead termed his approach to sociology and social psychology ‘social behaviourism’ to distinguish it from the more orthodox psychological BEHAVIOURISM of Watson. Influenced especially by his fellow Pragmatist philosopher DEWEY and by Charles COOLEY, Mead's sociology and psychology emphasized the conscious mind and the self-awareness and self-regulation of SOCIAL ACTORS. In Mead's view, the SELF emerges from social interaction in which human beings, in ‘taking the role of the other’, internalize the attitudes of real and imagined others (see SIGNIFICANT OTHER). Drawing on Cooley's concept of the LOOKING-GLASS SELF, he postulated that the ‘I’ (myself as I am) is involved in a continual interaction with the ‘Me’ (myself as others see me). The ‘Me’ represents the attitudes of the social group, the GENERALIZED OTHER, and through role-taking in play and’ imaginative rehearsal’ of interaction we internalize the group's values as our own. By continually reflecting on ourselves as others see us we become competent in the production and display of social symbols. Human nature is seen by Mead as part of evolution and nature, but the importance of language and symbolic communication as an aspect of this evolution is such as to free human action from natural determinism. Mead can be seen to represent the epitome of CHICAGO SCHOOL sociology in his attempt to articulate the relationship between the self and society. Herbert BLUMER took over Mead's lectures on his death, refined his social theory and coined the term SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM. Mead's main works, collected essays and lectures, all published after his death, are Mind, Self and Society (1932), The Philosophy of the Act (1938), and The Philosophy of the Present (1959). See also PRAGMATISM.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000