George Herbert Mead – Biography, Contributions, Practise Questions

An American sociologist named George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) was known as the founder of American pragmatism, explorer the symbolic interaction theory and founder of the social psychology.

george herbert mead biography

George Herbert was born in the month of February 27 of 1863 in Massachusetts. Father named Hiram Mead, he was a minister and pastor of a local church. At a young age, his whole family moved to Oberlin in 1870. As his father wanted to be a professor at Oberlin theory seminary.

H Mead’s mother named Elizabeth Storrs Billing Mead worked as an academician. Firstly she worked as a teacher in Oberlin College. Then as a president of Mount Holyoke College back in her hometown in South Hadley.

In 1879 Mead was enrolled at Oberlin College where he pursued Bachelors of Arts in History and Literature which he was done in the year 1883.  After a concise period of working as a school teacher, Mead worked as a surveyor in Wisconsin Central Rail Road Company for few years. In 1887 Mead decided to enroll himself in Harvard University and did his Master of Arts in philosophy. Whilst in Harvard he studied psychology which influenced his later work as a sociologist.

After done with Masters Mead joined one of his close friend Henry Castle and Helen in Leipzig, Germany, where he started with his Ph. D program in philosophy and physiological psychology at the University of Leipzig.

He later transferred himself into the University of Berlin in the year 1889, where he tried and focussed on economic theory as a part of his studies. Around 1891 Mead was proposed with a teaching position in psychology and philosophy at the University of Michigan. So he paused his Ph. D and accepted the offer and further he never completed his doctoral studies.

In its contrast after accepting this post-Mead married Helen Castle in Berlin.

Mead met a sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in Michigan and also the philosopher John Dewey and psychologist Alfred Llyod all these people developed thoughts and writings of Mead. John Dewey was appointed as a chairperson of philosophy in the University of Chicago and later Dewey arranged Mead there as an assistant professor in 1894 in the department of philosophy. All joining hands with  James Hayden Tufts established the nexus of American Pragmatism also known as Chicago Pragmatists.

Mead shared his knowledge as a Professor at the University of Chicago till his last breath on April 26 1931.


In his 40 years of career, he wrote constantly and published innumerable book reviews and articles regarding psychology and philosophy. But he never published his own books. After his death, most of his admirer or students published his work which was divided into four volumes which were recorded at the University of Chicago linked with social psychology.

Four volumes contains of:

  1. Carus Lectures of 1930.
  2. The philosophy of the present in 1932
  3. Mind, Self, and Society in 1934
  4. Movements of thoughts in the Nineteenth Century in 1936
  5. The philosophy of the act in  1938

While he was alive he published around 100 of scholarly articles, incidental pieces, and reviews. They all were of diverse nature and are hard to access. In recent times Essays in Social psychology were published which were left by Mead and further published by Mary Jo Deegan in 2001.

Suggestions Towards a theory of the

  1. Philosophical Disciplines in 1900
  2. Social consciousness and the consciousness of meaning 1910
  3. The mechanism of social consciousness 1912
  4. The Social self 1913
  5. Scientific method and the individual thinker 1917
  6. A behavioristic account of the significant symbol 1922
  7. The Genesis of Self and Social control 1925

Mead on Pragmatism

Mead was well known for his theory of self he also authored a book which was named Mind, Self, and Society it was published posthumously and edited by Charles W. Morris. His theory says that the conception one has about themselves is caused by the social interaction. Social interaction with others helps build self-picture of oneself. As he says when a human is born there is no concept of Self so therefore at birth there is no social interaction so there is no Self. But self is built on and on by the process of indulging in social activities and gaining social experience.

The theory of Self

The self-theory contains two elements that are

“I” and “me”

The “me” here means the expectation and attitude of others ( generalized other) towards “me” these are organized into a social self. Here “me” sets his behavior according to the viewpoint of others. This brings self-consciousness and social control as an instrument in the community.

Now we come to “I” it is a response to “me” or one’s individuality. It is an essential part of human action.

So there “me” is a self (object) and “I” is a self (subject). In this of Meads, there are three main activities with which the self-develops. Those are Language, Play, and Game.

Language: it allows one to act or take the role of the others and allows others to pay feedback to his own actions in terms of the attitudes of others.

Play: Here person takes on the roles of others and also pretend as them and display the expectations of others. This process of playing different roles is said to generate self-consciousness and to generally develop a feeling of Self.

Game: here the person is said to make attitudes part of ones nature by learning the roles of others, therefore who are part of the game need to follow the rules of the game.

In simple words, The basic principles we come to learn through George Herbert Mead are that Human have the capacity of thinking and these thoughts are formed by social interaction through this interaction people learn symbols and different meaning which build thinking within them. People can change their actions according to the situations they are involved in. People can form their own meanings of different things. Also, these groups or societies are built upon the action and interaction patterns.

The main focus was that the behavior of an individual lies within the social process. So he says The behavior of an individual can only be understood by understanding the behavior of the whole social group of which an individual belongs to since his individual acts are part of larger, social act go beyond himself and compromise another member of the group.

Mead stated that individual be assign with

“From the standpoint of society, at least from the standpoint of communication as an essential to the social order”

Mead also argued that self cannot be separated from the society, no self-consciousness nor communication.

Practise Question and Answer

These days, internet addiction has become an everyday phenomenon. Applying Mead’s ‘theory of self’ explores the phenomenon.

According to Mead, an individual is not born with a self but develops in society. It is developed through communication and interactions.

It evolves in 2 stages:

(1)        Play stage – a child learns ‘discrete others’ and develops a limited self.

(2)        Game stage – child develops’ generalized others’        

‘I’ and ‘Me’  are the two dimensions of self that are created socially.

I – is the immediate and spontaneous response of an individual. It is creative and unpredictable and an individual is unaware of it.

Me – is the social self and adoption of generalized others. An individual is conscious of Me.

 Both ‘I’ and ‘Me’ interact to guide behaviour and ‘Me’ controls ‘I’ and keeps it in check.

Interaction addiction can be analized as :

(1) One presents the ‘Me’ on the social media platforms- FB, Twitter, Instagram – the number of likes and comments gives one a sense of what the ‘Me’ is perceived.

(2) It then generates a desire to keep projecting ‘Me’ as expected by the generalized others – ‘the ideal self.’

(3) ‘I’ may get suppressed – it kills the creative, rebellious streak and may even generate hatred about ‘I.’

(4) Projecting ‘I’ may lead to cyberbullying trolling – which affects self-esteem and causes a self-identity crisis.

Also Read: Karl Marx – Contributions and Practise Questions

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Hello, I am Samreen Sagheer pursuing Journalism and Mass Communication from Amity. I am an aspiring writer, ready to give my best. I like to keep things simple and straightforward just like my personality.