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G.H. Mead: Theorist of the Social Act

Authors

  • ALEX GILLESPIE

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Cambridge
      Alex Gillespie Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RQ UK ag272@cam.ac.uk
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Alex Gillespie Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RQ UK ag272@cam.ac.uk

Abstract

ABSTRACT: There have been many readings of Mead's work, and this paper proposes yet another: Mead, theorist of the social act. It is argued that Mead's core theory of the social act has been neglected, and that without this theory, the concept of taking the attitude of the other is inexplicable and the contemporary relevance of the concept of the significant symbol is obfuscated. The paper traces the development of the social act out of Dewey's theory of the act. According to Mead, Dewey's theory does not sufficiently account for consciousness. Grappling with this problematic leads Mead to several key ideas, which culminate in his theory of the social act. The social act and taking the attitude of the other are then illustrated by the analysis of a game of football. The interpretation presented has two novel aspects: first, symbolisation arises not simply through self taking the attitude of the other, but through the pairing of this attitude with the complementary attitude in self; second, self is able to take the attitude of the other to the extent that self has in actuality or in imagination previously been in the social position of the other. From this standpoint the key issue is how the attitude of self and other become integrated. New directions for empirical research, aimed at advancing this question are outlined. Finally, the paper shows how the social act can contribute to our contemporary concerns about the nature of the symbolic.

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