From p. 424 in Social Theory Re-Wired

It is the characteristic of the self as an object to itself that I want to bring out. This characteristic is represented in the word “self,” which is a reflexive, and indicates that which can be both subject and object.To fully understand Mead, we must understand what it means for the self to be an object. Put simply, it is seeing our self like we imagine others to see us, as if we were standing in their shoes instead of our own. For example, we have all felt embarrassed. But have you ever felt embarrassed after doing something silly even when you knew no one was watching? This is because we are constantly, and oftentimes unknowingly, stepping outside of the moment to see our self as an object. This type of object is essentially different from other objects, and in the past it has been distinguished as conscious, a term which indicates an experience with, an experience of, one’s self. It was assumed that consciousness in some way carried this capacity of being an object to itself. In giving a behavioristic statement of consciousnessMead was influenced by but also very critical of behavioral psychologists like John Watson, who pioneered research on how individual behaviors are conditioned through responses to external stimuli. For Mead, the self is conditioned through collective, not simply individual, interaction with the environment. Moreover, people are not passive in this process, often actively adjusting and interpreting their responses to various “stimuli.” You can read more about the kind of behavioral psychology Mead critiqued here. Pay close attention to the similarities and differences between standard behavioral psychology and Mead’s more social approach. (And, if you’ve ever wondered what a draft of a theory looks like from someone like Mead, you can check out his actual, hand-written manuscript here.)  we have to look for some sort of experience in which the physical organism can become an object to itself.

From p. 425 in Social Theory Re-Wired

The individual experiences himself as such, not directly, but only indirectly, from the particular standpoints of other individual members of the same social group, or from the generalized standpoint of the social group as a whole to which he belongs.Mead’s introduction of the “generalized other” resembles another famous sociological concept: Charles Horton Cooley’s looking-glass self. According to Cooley, how we perceive our self depends on the judgments we imagine other people make of us. Or, in his words: "I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am.” Mead extends Cooley’s idea by defining the specific interactive stages that bring about this socialized self.  For he enters his own experience as a self or individual, not directly or immediately, not by becoming a subject to himself, but only in so far as he first becomes an object to himself just as other individuals are objects to him or in his experience; and he becomes an object to himself only by taking the attitudes of other individuals toward himself within a social environment or context of experience and behavior in which both he and they are involved.

The importance of what we term “communication” lies in the fact that it provides a form of behavior in which the organism or the individual may become an object to himself. It is that sort of communication which we have been discussing—not communication in the sense of the cluck of the hen to the chickens, or the bark of a wolf to the pack, or the lowing of a cow, but communication in the sense of significant symbols, communication which is directed not only to others but also to the individual himself.The importance of communication here—including gestures, symbols, and language—cannot be overstated. In order for the self to develop through interaction, the interaction itself must be made meaningful. Or, in order to step into the shoes of another person and see our self as an object, we must expect they would respond to our gestures in the same way we would, like sticking out your hand for a handshake and anticipating the other person to do the same. When symbols, gestures, and language bring about a shared response, they have become meaningful or what Mead calls “significant.” Of course, the “sharedness” of symbols can change over time, leading to cultural misunderstandings. Sometimes these misunderstandings are serious, but, other times, they’re just kind of funny.  So far as that type of communication is a part of behavior it at least introduces a self.

From p. 431 in Social Theory Re-Wired

It is in the form of the generalized other that the social process influences the behavior of the individuals involved in it and carrying it on, i.e., that the community exercises control over the conduct of its individual membersThe “generalized other” refers to the organized attitudes of society that serve as a lens through which individuals can see themselves as objects. However, it is the last stage of a role-taking process through which the self develops. In the stage of play, for example, children are able to take on the roles of very significant others, such as when a child takes on the role of her mother and cradles her own doll as if it were herself. Similarly, in the stage of game, a child is able to take on the roles of many significant others at once (see Mead’s example of the baseball game). Even before children know the meaning behind significant symbols, they play at the “conversation of gestures” that Mead says makes up social interaction, as this clip vividly (and adorably) demonstrates. ; for it is in this form that the social process or community enters as a determining factor into the individual’s thinking. In abstract thought the individual takes the attitude of the generalized other toward himself, without reference to its expression in any particular other individuals; and in concrete thought he takes that attitude in so far as it is expressed in the attitudes toward his behavior of those other individuals with whom he is involved in the given social situation or act. But only by taking the attitude of the generalized other toward himself, in one or another of these ways, can he think at all; for only thus can thinking—or the internalized conversation of gestures which constitutes thinking—occur.Here is where Mead gives us a glimpse into his definition of thinking. If the social world is made up of thousands of significant symbols and gestures, and taking on the attitudes of the social world develops the self, then our thought process itself is a conversation of significant symbols and gestures. This idea that thinking is fundamentally a social process and not an individual one turned the more mentalist approaches of his time on their heads.  And only through the taking by individuals of the attitude or attitudes of the generalized other toward themselves is the existence of a universe of discourse, as that system of common or social meanings which thinking presupposes at its context, rendered possible.

From p. 435 in Social Theory Re-Wired

The “I” is his action over against that social situation within his own conduct, and it gets into his experience only after he has carried out the act. Then he is aware of it. He had to do such a thing and he did it. He fulfils his duty and he may look with pride at the throw which he made. The “me” arises to do that duty—that is the way in which it arises in his experience. He had in him all the attitudes of others, calling for a certain response; that was the “me” of that situation, and his response is the “I.” Mead did not think the self is merely the idle adoption of the generalized other. In this passage, Mead describes the two poles of the self that make up its dynamic nature. We might think of the “me” as the socialized pole of the self that develops through the role-taking process. It is the attitudes of the generalized other that are expressed through shared gestures, symbols, and language—it is what we see when we see our self as an object. The “I,” on the other hand, is our response to the “me” and can be more spontaneous and creative. For Mead, it is the dynamic relationship between the “I” and the “Me” that constitutes what we call the self.

Seeing Our Self as an Object, Online

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Mead’s theory on the self asks us to look at the symbols and gestures through which the expectations of the “generalized other” are communicated to us. In fact, according to Mead, a self would not fully exist without the perch of the generalized other upon which to stand and view our self as an object of conscious experience. The ubiquity of online media, social networking sites, and the 24-hour news cycle has undoubtedly shone a new light on the generalized other. Pick one aspect of the digital age, such as Facebook, advertising, or multiculturalism, and describe how it acts as a generalized other for the development of the modern self. What do you think are some of the consequences—positive and negative—these new kinds of others have for the self?

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