The generalized other
is a concept introduced by George Herbert Mead
George Herbert Mead was an American philosopher, sociologist and psychologist, primarily affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he was one of several distinguished pragmatists. He is regarded as one of the founders of social psychology and the American sociological tradition in general.-...
into the social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...
, and used especially in a field called symbolic interactionism
Symbolic Interaction, also known as interactionism, is a sociological theory that places emphasis on micro-scale social interaction to provide subjective meaning in human behavior, the social process and pragmatism.-History:...
. It is the general notion that a person has of the common expectations that others have about actions and thoughts within a particular society - 'the clarification of my relation to the other as an exemplar of the same social system
'. Any time that an actor tries to imagine what is expected of them, they are taking on the perspective of the generalized other.
As a concept, it is roughly equivalent to the idea of the Freudian superego. It has also been compared to 'the father-qua-symbol (Lacan
Lacan is surname of:* Jacques Lacan , French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist** The Seminars of Jacques Lacan** From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power, a book on political philosophy by Saul Newman** Lacan at the Scene* Judith Miller, née Lacan...
's name-of-the-father)' - to the way 'Convention, Law, Grammar, and Authority become the Third...much as Mead's generalized other'.
Role-play and games
Mead contrasted the experience of role-play and pretence in early childhood, 'where there is a simple succession of one rôle after another', with that of the organised game: 'in the latter the child must have the attitude of all the others involved in that game'. He saw the organised game as vital for the formation of a mature sense of self, which can only be achieved by learning to respond to, and take on the others' 'attitudes toward the various phases or aspects of the common social activity or set of social undertakings...they are all engaged in...the generalized other'.
'In the game we get an organized other, a generalized other, which is found in the nature of the child itself....in the case of such a social group as a ball team, the team is the generalized other in so far as it enters - as an organized process or social activity - into the experience of any one of the individual members of it'.
By thus seeing things from an, as it were, anonymous "other perspective", the child may eventually be able to visualize the intentions and expectations of others and see him/herself from the point of view of groups of others: from the viewpoint of the generalized other.
The attitude of the generalized other is the attitude of the larger community. According to Mead, the generalized other is the vehicle by which we are linked to society.
Multiple generalized others
'There are as many generalized others as there are social groups' in society: as Mead put it, 'every individual member of any given human society, of course, belongs to a large number of such different functional groups'. As a result, 'each self articulates in a unique way the shared set of social and cultural values', so that a 'fully developed self takes the attitude of multiple generalized others in an unrepeatable fashion'.
One can also envisage in the self's relation to the generalized other 'increasing levels of socialisation and individuation
Individuation is a concept which appears in numerous fields and may be encountered in work by Arthur Schopenhauer, Carl Jung, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, Gilles Deleuze, Henri Bergson, David Bohm, and Manuel De Landa...
(thus, a growing number of people and facets of each self become part of the interplay between the generalized other and the self)'.
- 1934: Mead, G. H. (C. W. Morris ed.), Mind,Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- 1956: Natanson, Maurice, The Social Dynamics of George H. Mead, Public Affairs Press, Washington, D. C.
- 2008: Ritzer, G.R, Sociological Theory seventh edition. McGraww-Hill Higher Companies, New York.