Mead and the “Generalized Other”

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Mead and the "Generalized Other" 

others has been aptly described by George Herbert Mead .[1934, part 3, pp. 140-141} who developed the concept of the generalized other. This generalized other is a composite of the expectations one believes others hold toward one. When one says,"Everyone expects me to one' is using the concept of the generalized other. Awareness of the generalized other is developed through the processes of role taking and role playing. Role taking is an attempt to act out the behavior that would be expected of a person who actually held the role one is "taking." In children's play, there is much role taking, as they "play house" ("You be the mama and I'll be the papa and you be the little baby"), play cops and robbers, or play with dolls. Role playing is acting out the behavior of a role one actually holds (as when the boy and girl become father and mother), whereas in role taking one only pretends to hold the role. Mead sees a three-stage process through which one learns to play adult roles.

First, there is a preparatory stage (1 to 3 years) in which the child imitates adult behavior without. any real understanding (as when the little girl cuddles her doll, then uses it as a club to strike her brothel). Next comes the play stage (3 to 4-years) when children have some understanding of the behavior but switch roles erratically. One moment the boy is a builder, piling blocks upon one another, and a moment later he knocks them apart, or at one moment he is a policeman and a moment later an astronaut. Finally comes the game state (4 to -S years and beyond) where the role behavior becomes consistent and purposeful and; the Child has the ability to sense . the role of the other players. To play baseball, each player must understand his or her own role .as well as the role of all the other players. Thus, through child play one develops' an ability to see one's own behavior in'its relation to others and to 'sense the reaction of other .persons involved. Some attempts to test Mead's theories experimentally have generally been supportive. For example, Rubin and Maioni [1975] found a positive correlation 'between  small children's participation in dramatic play and their- ability to take the view of others.

It is through this awareness of others' roles, feelings, and values that the generalized other takes form In our minds, It-is thus a composite of the roles which other people play and of the expectations they have toward us. It can roughly be equated with the expectations of the community, or at least of those segments of the community in which one moves. By repeatedly "taking the role of the generalized other," one develops a concept of the self of the kind of person one is. A failure to develop this ability to adopt another's point view (to take the role of another) seems to cripple personality development. Chandler [1970] tested a group of delinquent boys and found them to be several years retarded in their role-taking abilities. After several weeks of an V;actor's workshop" . '" in which each boy took all the roles in succession (aggressor, victim, arresting officer, judge) the boys gained  their role; taking skills. This supports Mead's theory that role taking is an essential learning process in socialization .

Other authorities have added the concept of the significant other. The significant other' is the person whose approval we 'desire and whose direction we accept. As Woelfel and Haller [1971, p. 75] define the concept, "significant others are those persons who exercise major influence over the attitudes of individuals." Significant others may be influential because of the roles they fill (parents, teachers) or because one has selected this significant other as important (popular celebrities, best friends, favorite relative, boyfriend or girlfriend). They are important to us, and therefore their ideas and values tend to become our ideas and values.