Friday, December 7, 2012

Mead: "Socal Role" and "I vs. Me"

      Pre-kindergarten is the first step when children learn to adjust in the society. As they go through this step, they realize of the meaning of “a social role.” In learning a social role, children find their own position how they should play it out in the stage where the society directs. I have a little sister, Joanna, who is about to become 7 years old. For 6 years I have watched her how she grows up.

     “Why does this man wear a hat in here?” My sister pointed her finger at the man, “you told me that I should not wear a hat inside the room.” When Joanna started pre-kindergarten, I took her to the pizzeria for lunch. By her chaotic action, my adolescent mind (it was when I was in high school.) drove me into huge embarrassment. With my red chicks welled up by embarrassment, “Stop pointing your finger at him, Joanna. It’s rude..!” I told her. And when she obediently listened to my instruction, she innocently pointed at him by her fist, as only her finger quietly closed in her palm. “Rude, what is rude? And why does he do it?” with her curious face. A loss in words, I burst with laughter. After I ordered our lunch and took a seat with her, I solved her mysteries. “Pointing at someone is not a polite thing to do. So when you want to refer someone, you should just describe him by words like a gentleman with a hat standing next to us,” and I continued “for wearing a hat, you can wear it in the pizzeria and any casual place outside the house.”

     Mead claims “children engage in play rather than in games” (Alexander 1987:207). Children do not acquire the knowledge of the meaning and necessity of the social position why and how they need to play in the society. In the incident of the pizzeria, Joanna did not know wearing a hat had its own access and limitation in ‘a rule’. An access and limitation, in another words, indicate ‘a significance’ as in how and what she can and cannot do in the society. The rule can serve as a symbol of the self-direction and control which makes others to follow an instruction of certain action. “Any control that we have over ourselves (and the symbolic interactionists claim it is considerable) comes through symbolic interaction with ourselves, through telling ourselves what is going on, what alternatives there are, and what line of action to take” (Charon 1989:61). And so, through my explanation of the rule that wearing a hat is permissible in the pizzeria, then my sister takes a first step learning the significance and developing her internalization. Mead refers “a generalized other” (Alexander 1987:208) is how the children take a process of understanding the significance from learning how others act. “At this early point in their development, then, children can only put themselves in place of the other. With further development, however, children can actually incorporate into themselves an abstract understanding of the roles which significant others assume” (Alexander 1987:207). A sense of the social role becomes more generalized through the process of growth. As a result of the generalized other, my sister no longer points at people when she wants to indicate someone. When I talked to her about the incident of the pizzeria, she laughed off about her past action and said “Really? Did I ever do that? I don’t point people by my finger anymore because it isn’t nice thing to do.”  

     If I refer the result of my sister’s generalization, it is a form of “me.” The “me” is a shape of herself how she behaves according to the society. And then, there is another form besides “me,” which is “I.” The “I” is herself, her pure quality of character excluding from the social element. Strangely, “I” and “me” are a different package of oneself. Mead defines “The “I” is the novel element, the “me” the social element corresponding to the generalized other” (Alexander 1987:209). If oneself is a body of the system, “I” and “me” serve as each part of the system. Mead explains, “for social psychology, the whole (society) is prior to the part (the individual), not the part to the whole; and the part is explained in terms of the whole, not the whole in terms of the part or parts” (Mead 1977:121). As Mead argues, “I” and “me” may be different from one another, but they are not a separate set of components. Together, “I” and “me” bring out a whole character of oneself. In the case of the pizzeria, Joanna was not acquainted how she should have behaved in such situation because her “me” was yet to be generalized to respond. And her “I” is her enthusiastic character of curiosity. Despite being inexperienced in the social experiments, she pursues to learn what she is not familiar of rather than she submissively follows a way which she may disagree with. In her “I,” she has a strong inquiring mind and brave spirit.
     The reason I picked the picture of a table with chairs and a set of marbles is to describe the social role, and “I” and “me.” In the picture of the white table and white chairs, it shows the function of its each role. If one looks at this scene of the table with chairs, one will automatically think that the purpose is to sit on one of the chairs and put the belongings on the table. The table and chairs give a specific aim how they function. And such specific function is just like a social role what each individual is assigned in the society. To add, I wanted to point out that children are not acquainted with their given role because they are not yet generalized enough to realize their own social roles. Through the process of growth, they then would know and adjust into their assigned roles just like a table for a table and chairs for chairs. As for the other picture of marbles, I wanted to emphasize how “I” and “me” function together as the components for a same body. The center marbles represent “I,” the inner-self prior to the social component. And the marbles around the center marbles display “me,” the outer-self which influenced by the social component: the “social I.” The position of the two rows of marbles may be separate, yet they are not too far from each other because they are a same package of how the individual portray. Together, they are one.   


Alexander, Jeffrey C. 1987. Twenty Lectures: Sociological Theory Since World WarII. NY: Columbia University Press.   

Charon, Joel M. 1989. Symbolic Interaction: an introduction, an Interpretation, an Integration. NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Mead, George Herbert. 1977. On Social Psychology. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

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