Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Gergen’s Comments on Mead’s Mind, Self, and Society

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , , , ,

I’m not going to spend too much time on this. I am just finding it interesting to see someone else’s take on Mead’s work—someone more knowledgeable on these subjects than I.

Gergen, K. J. (2009). An Invitation to Social Construction (p. 200). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications. Retrieved from

Gergen writes of Mead’s work:

“As Mead proposed, there is no thinking, or indeed any sense of being a self, that is independent of social process” (p. 89).

“Language becomes possible when people share a common set of mental symbols” (p. 89).

The generalized other: “a composite of others’ reactions to me across situations” (p. 89).


Gergen acknowledges Mead’s focus on social roles and human interdependency, yet his presentation of Mead’s body of work is highly condensed. As a result, I find myself having to consider more carefully Gergen’s criticisms of Mead’s work. Here are Gergen’s criticisms:

  1. “In spite of the relational emphasis, symbolic interactionism retains a strong element of individualism” (p. 90).
  2. “Symbolic interactionism leaves us without any way to explain how it is that a person is able to grasp others’ states of mind from gestures” (p. 90).
  3. “Finally, there is a strong flavor of social determinism in symbolic interactionism” (p. 90).

My first observation is that points 1 and 3 are somewhat contradictory: there is a strong element of individualism, yet it is highly socially determinant. This sounds to me like the two aspects are balanced. So, I’m not too sure where to go with these two points.

My second observation is that in my own reading of Mead’s work, I thought he went to great lengths to explain how we learn what others are thinking through a sort of dance of gestures. In fact, as people interact, we might say they empirically experiment with gesture and imitation. They interpret and internalize the feedback they get from actions and observations of actions. Here are some relevant quotes from Mead’s book:

  • In the introduction, Charles Morris writes: “Philosophically the position is here an objective relativism; qualities of the object may yet be relative to a conditioning organism. A certain portion of the world, as experienced, is private; but a portion is social or common . . .” (p. xix).
  • “The individual has, as it were, gotten outside of his limited world by taking the roles of others, being assured through communication empirically grounded and tested that in all these cases the world presents the same appearance. Where this is attained, experience is social, common, shared; it is only against this common world that the individual distinguishes his own private experience” (Morris, intro to Mead, 1934 p. xxix).
  • In Mead’s words: “It is not essential that the individuals should give an identical meaning to the particular stimulus in order that each may properly respond. People get into a crowd and move this way, and that way; they adjust themselves to the people coming toward them, as we say, unconsciously. They move in an intelligent fashion with reference to each other, and perhaps all of them think of something entirely different, but they do find in the gestures in which there is a co-operative activity without any symbol that means the same thing to all” (p. 55).

In this last quote, this seems akin to Gergen’s contention that “meaning is achieved through coordinated action. Thus we may say that we understand each other when we effectively coordinate our actions—drawing from traditions in ways that are mutually satisfactory” (p. 111).

At this point in my reading, I see the foundations of Mead’s work and social constructionism more commensurable than suggested by Gergen.


Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self & society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. (C. W. Morris, Ed.) (Vol. 13). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Mead: Quotes about Embodiment, the Self, and the Interaction between the “I” and the “Me”

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , , ,

(Note: Converted from Livescribe Pen via MyScript. Possible typos.)

“The self has the characteristic that it is an object to itself, and that characteristic distinguishes it from other objects and from the body” (p. 136).

“The parts of the body are quite distinguishable from the self. We can lose parts of the body without any serious invasion of the self. . . the body does not experience itself as a whole, in a sense in which the self in some way enters into the experience of the self” (p. 136).

The word self is reflexive: ”oneself”. As such, Mead suggests that the self can be both subject and object” (p. 136-137).


Subject “I” Object “Me”
– focused on outside activity 


– focused on memory and imagination (internal to the individual)
– ”the response of the organism to the attitudes of the others” (p. 175) 


– self-consciousness: self viewed from the standpoint of other members of the social group
-active adaptation (p. 214) – “responding to oneself as another responds to it” p. 140) 


– the act in the social situation (p. 279) – the social situation in which the act can express itself  [Interesting: this idea seems to fit with Harré’s notion of the individual as a location for speech acts.]


– ”a source of the unity of the Whole” (p. 279) – “the organized set of attitude as of others which
one himself assumes” (p. 175) 



“The ‘I’ of this moment is the present in the ‘me’ of the next moment. . . It is as we act that we are aware of ourselves” (p. 174).

The GENERALIZED OTHER: “how the community exercises control over the conduct of its individual members” (affects the individual’s thinking) (p. 155).

ATTITUDES: “organized sets of responses” (p. 161).

Community: “A person is a personality because he belongs to a community, because he takes over the institutions of that community into his own conduct. . . The structure, then, on which the self is built, is this response which is common to all, for one has to be a member of a community to be a self” (p. 162).

“We cannot have rights unless we have common attitude” (p. 164).

“Selves can only exist in definite relationships to other selves” (p. 164).

The self as a “structural process” (p. 165).

Institutional Form ”. . . the whole community acts toward the individual under certain circumstances in an identical way” (p. 167).


Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self & society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. (C. W. Morris, Ed.) (Vol. 13). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

G. H. Mead: Quotes on Temporality & Symbolism

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , ,

(Note: Converted from Livescribe Pen via MyScript. Possible typos.)

INTELLIGENCE ”is the process of delaying, organizing, and selecting a response or reaction to the stimuli of the given environmental situation” (p. 100).

“The traces of past experience are continually playing in upon our perceived world’ (p. 113).

“ . . . The relation of the temporal character of the nervous system to foresight and choice. . . That which takes place in present organic behaviour is always in some sense an emergent from the past, and could never have been precisely predicted in advance… (p. 98-99).

TEMPORAL Dimension: ”the things we are going to do can be arranged in a temporal order so that the latter processes can in their inception be present in determining the earlier processes; what we are going to do can determine our immediate approach to the object.” (p. 117).

Symbolism:  “To be able to identify ‘this as leading to that., and to get some sort of a gesture, vocal or otherwise, which can be used to implicate indicate the implication to others and himself so as to make possible control of conduct with reference to it, is The distinctive thing in human intelligence which is not found in animal intelligence.’ (p. 120)..

Symbols allow us to “hold on to these given characters and to isolate them in their relationship to the object, and consequently in their relation to the response.’ (p. 121).

Example provided:

  • One is not afraid of the footprint, but of the bear.

Meads notes the difference between:

Thinking with symbols VS. Conditioned response (p. 122)


“We have to recognize that language is part of conduct. Mind involves, however, a relationship to the characters of things . . . Mentality is that relationship of the organisms to the situation which is mediated by sets of symbols ‘ (pp. 124–125)

“Our symbols are all universal. You cannot say anything that is absolutely particular; anything you say that has any meaning at all is universal.” (p. 147)

“A person who is saying something is saying to himself what he says 10 others; otherwise he does not know what he is talking about.’ (p. 147)

Example: Helen Keller

  • “As she has recognized, it was not until she could get into communication with other persons through symbols which could arouse in herself the responses they arouse in other people that she could get what we term a mental content, or a self” (p. 149).



Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self & society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. (C. W. Morris, Ed.) (Vol. 13). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Additional Notes on G. H. Mead

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , , ,

. . . continued from previous post . . .

I would like to Know the degree to which Rom Harré’s work has been influenced by Mead. There are some useful definitions from Mead’s work that can help us understand some of Harré’s work.

UNITY – “… if this whole is touched at any point it may bring out any other element in the historian’s experience of Gladstone’ (p-85).

MEANING – ”a content of an object which is dependent upon the relation of an organism or group of organisms to it” (p. 80).

Mead suggests that one’s altitude shapes how we communicate and ”give the import.’ to the top,-01 information. He provides our use of conjunctions as an example (and, but, though). These words can set up that which follows. (see p. 86).

“The later stages of the experience itself can be present in the immediate experience which influences them.” (p. 87)

This suggests that we have already internalized altitudes (values, positions) towards experiences. (But all experiences? I suppose we might draw upon previous experiences in order to process the new experiences.)

UNIVERSALISM – when I first saw this word, my immediate association for it was ”essentialism:’ However, Mead appears to view universalisms as the means by which individuals, each with their unique perspectives, can communicate about an idea. (The idea, however, may ultimately be conceived slightly differently by each individual-but the general, universal underlying understanding of the idea transcends the particular.)

-> “It’s universality in conduct, however, amounts only to the irrelevance of the differences of the different perspectives….” (p. 89)

THE GENERALIZED OTHER – “The very universality and impersonality of thought and reason is from the behavioristic standpoint the result of the given individual taking the attitudes of others towards himself, and of his finally crystallizing all these particular attitudes into a single attitude or standpoint which may be called that of the ‘generalized other’ ” (p. 90).


Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self & society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. (C. W. Morris, Ed.) (Vol. 13). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


(Note: Converted from Livescribe Pen via MyScript. Still don’t have the kinks out. Will edit properly later.)