The I, the Me, and the Social Self


The task of learning from readings: Protips #1


William James (1842-1910)
Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)
George Herbert Mead (1863-1931)
Georg Simmel (1858-1918)

Big Ideas

Cooley: the "looking glass self"
Mead: the "I and the me," taking role of others, generalized other
Simmel: the first a priori


William James wrote some great stuff about the self in chapter X of his Principles of Psychology (1890)

  • multiple selves for multiple others
  • consciousness of self

Cooley and the "looking glass self"

"Each to each a looking-glass
Reflects the other that doth pass."

As we see our face, figure, and dress in the glass, and areinterested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as they do or do not answer to what we should like them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another's mind somethought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends,and so on, and are variously affected by it.

A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal element:the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort ofself-feeling, such as pride or mortification. The comparison with alooking-glass hardly suggests the second element, the imaginedjudgment, which is quite essential. The thing that moves us to prideor shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection uponanother's mind. This is evident from the fact that the character and freight of that other, in whose mind we see ourselves, makes all the difference with our feeling. We are ashamed to seem evasive in thepresence of a straight forward man, cowardly in the presence of abrave one, gross in the eyes of a refined one, and so on. We always imagine, and in imagining share, the judgments of the other mind. Aman will boast to one person of an action - say some sharp transaction in trade - which he would be ashamed to own to another.

  • Problem: in what sense do we have a self for others? OR, what kind of a thing is a self that this notion of "multiple selves for others" can work?
  • Related: what does this self "do" in being a self for others?
  • Cooley: we are who others reflect us to be. Three steps
    • I appear for others (and am aware that I appear for others)
    • The other judges, takes a stance, has an evaluative reaction
    • I adjust myself to get the reaction I want

Let's unpack this.

Among other things we note that it is a developmental model : it tries to describe how the (social) self emerges in interaction with others. This ties it in with Mead's model.

The I and the Me

"The self develops with the internalization of the generalized other"

Social self involves internalization of the generalized other. Ability to “take the role of” or “take the attitudes” of the generalized other

Grammar : subject/object

Games and Play

Game vs. Play
Blocks vs cards.

Serious wants and needs » Play
Taking the role of others
» Game
Rules, Internalizing generalized other
I have the responses of others in my head

“Children take a great interest in rules.” What’s going on when they do that?

Example. Over Christmas break I was playing “princess” or some such with my neice Emily. She’s about 4. The game involved a colored piece for each player, a board with a sequence of squares on it, each with a picture of a piece of jewelry, a spinner and a box of plastic jewelry pieces. Basically like Monopoloy, only with jewelry. Real good for little girls. It took every bit of discipline I could muster to avoid lecturing her parents. I made up for it later by showing her how to shoot a dart gun (which she absolutely gets a blast out of). As we played, she understood “my turn” and the act of spinning and that there was movement to be done on the board. No real sense, though, of being bound by particular rules. Only a vague sense of turn taking (in other words that they followed one another), and that there was a correspondence between the space you land on and the piece of jewelry you got. Also, a limited appreciation for any sense of rounds, that all the moves up to now constituted a single game and that we might “start over again.”
Cf. P. 223: “You can’t count on a child.”
Knowing it is mere play (a different frame in Goffman's terms) requires taking the role of others, in fact, of the generalized other. Compare to this the problem of humor.
Significant others : one's self image or me develops as one becomes aware of the responses and expectations of others. Compare learning to write in this class. I tell you what I expect and then when you are writing you notice things you didn't notice before.
Self vs. organism —
…self is something with a social development…
p. 219 to be fully developed, what we might call a varsity self, one needs to have an appreciation for what society does. That there are parties, that people ask directions on train platforms, that people wait and take turns, that property exists (recall teaching children “no, that’s Tommy’s toy.”

Terminology and Concepts

social behaviorism
generalized other
take the role of the other
conversation of gestures
symbolic interactionism

Journal Suggestions

  1. Who are your significant others? In different situations, whose reactions to your actions do you have in mind? Do you ever act without having anyone's reactions in mind? Under what circumstances? What does it feel like?
  2. When was the last time you said, "I can't help it, I'm just…"?
  3. When was the last time you said, "That was not the REAL me."?
  4. When you give an excuse for something, is that the I or the me that you are talking about?
  5. When you think of an excuse for something, is that the I or the me that you are talking about?
  6. What does it feel like to wear an article of clothing that you would "simply never wear in public!"?
  7. When were you last embarrassed?
  8. What does it feel like to witness someone else's embarrassment?