George Herbert Mead
George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) was a pioneering figure in the field of social psychology and a key philosopher in the tradition of Symbolic Interactionism. Born in 1863 in Massachusetts, USA, Mead's intellectual journey began at Harvard under the guidance of William James. He furthered his studies in Europe, particularly under the mentorship of Wilhelm Wundt.
In 1891, he commenced his academic career at Michigan University, and although he never completed a formal doctoral thesis, he earned a professorship in philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1894, where he would make significant contributions to the field.
One of his most influential works, "Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist," published posthumously in 1934 with an introduction by Charles W. Morris, remains a cornerstone in the field of social theory.
Mead's ideas revolved around the concept that "human beings are social through and through." He argued that self-reflection is essentially an internal dialogue influenced by external social interactions—a "conversation with oneself." According to Mead, the self cannot exist without society, and he distinguished between the "I" and the "me" in one's self-concept.
He proposed that while animals react reflexively to stimuli, humans respond to each other's meaningful gestures and signs. Understanding these signs and what others intend is a learned process, transitioning through stages like the play stage and the game stage.
Mead also developed a model of the development of the social self, emphasizing how individuals progress from mimicking behaviors to recognizing cultural norms and values.
Furthermore, Mead's work laid the foundation for Symbolic Interactionism, which views society as a product of ongoing, meaningful interactions among individuals. He stressed the importance of taking the role of the other in social interactions, a principle central to this sociological perspective.