Mead, George Herbert

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George Herbert Mead was born in 1863 in South Hadley, Massachusetts, USA. He is variously styled a social philosopher, social psychologist and sociologist, and was interested in devising a theory of the self. In his posthumously published lecture notes (1934) he, like James, divided the self into the active 'I' and the passive 'me' on whom others act. Like James, he divided the personal and the social (individuals and society) in making his distinction between 'I' and 'me'. Although his main focus was on the interaction between self and society, he did not deal with large social issues of power and social structure and, instead, mainly focussed on interactions between self and others (O'Donnell, 1992).
Mead devoted a lot of attention to study of language. He saw language as focus on the importance of language as the supreme symbolic system for communicating and for negotiating interactions in that it allows people to carry on 'internal conversations' with themselves and anticipate the response of other 'actors'. This allows people to assume other social roles and to internalise the attitudes of what Mead called 'the generalised other'. This focus on language as a symbolic system central to interaction means that Mead is generally considered to fit into the University of Chicago group referred to as 'symbolic interactionists' whose ideas can be said to prefigure social constructionist theory. Mead also foreshadowed the centrality accorded to language in psychology generally and in social constructionist approaches such as discourse analysis which focus on language. Mead died in 1931 in Chicago.