This post is truly a sticky note for me to follow up on later. During our final exam/paper conversation last week I alluded to my MeWe Principle. Dr. Simpson interjected, “You know who is known for the I and the Me concept, don’t you.” I stared blankly back at him. “George Mead, of course,” he said. Hmmm…
I’ve done a little more digging into George H. Mead. His work definitely connects with my MeWe principle. Two websites here and here have summarized his work. I haven’t yet delved into his work directly, although I have located it.
Mead, George Herbert, and Charles W. Morris. Mind, Self & Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago press, 1934.
“We are,” Mead writes, “individuals born into a certain nationality, located at a certain spot geographically, with such and such family relations, and such and such political relations. All of these represent a certain situation which constitutes the ‘me’; but this necessarily involves a continued action of the organism toward the ‘me.’ Men are born into social structures they did not create, they live in an institutional and social order they never made, and they are constrained by the limitations of languages, codes, customs. and laws. All of these enter into the “me” as constituent elements, yet the “I” always reacts to preformed situations in a unique manner, “just as every monad in the Leibnizian universe mirrors that universe from a different point of view, and thus mirrors a different aspect or perspective of that universe.” To Mead, mind is “the individual importation of the social process,” but, at the same time, “the individual . . . is continually reacting back against . . . society.” The self as a whole, as it appears in social experience, is a compound of the stabilized reflections of the generalized other in the “me” and the incalculable spontaneity of the “I.” This is why the self as a whole is an open self. “If it did not have these two phases there could not be conscious responsibility, and there would be nothing novel in experience.” Mead valued personal autonomy, but he saw it emerging from feedback rather than from attempts at insulation from others. Human actors are inevitably enmeshed in a social world, but the mature self transforms this world even as it responds to it.1