Mead’s Theory About the Social Self

George Herbert Mead, a prominent American philosopher and sociologist, developed a groundbreaking theory known as the “Theory of the Social Self.” This theory explores how individuals develop their sense of self through social interaction and communication. Mead’s theory highlights the role of language, symbols, and gestures in shaping our understanding of ourselves and our place in society.

The Self as a Social Product

According to Mead, the self is not something we are born with; rather, it is a product of our interactions with others. He argued that our sense of self emerges through a three-stage process: the “I,” the “Me,” and the “Generalized Other.”

The “I”

The “I” represents our spontaneous and impulsive nature. It is the part of ourselves that initiates action without considering societal expectations or norms. The “I” is creative and unpredictable, allowing us to express our unique individuality.

The “Me”

In contrast to the “I,” the “Me” represents our understanding of how others perceive us. It is shaped by society’s expectations, cultural values, and social norms. The “Me” governs our behavior by internalizing these external standards.

Mead believed that individuals develop their sense of self by taking on different roles in society. Through these roles, we learn to anticipate how others will respond to our actions and adjust our behavior accordingly.

Symbols and Gestures

Central to Mead’s theory is the importance of symbols and gestures in social interaction. Symbols are objects or words that carry shared meanings within a particular culture or society. They allow us to communicate complex ideas and understandings.

Gestures are non-verbal actions that convey meaning. They can be as simple as a nod of the head or as complex as a handshake. Mead argued that gestures are essential for establishing shared meanings and facilitating social interaction.

The Generalized Other

The final stage of Mead’s theory is the development of the “Generalized Other.” The Generalized Other represents our understanding of societal expectations and norms. It encompasses the collective attitudes, values, and beliefs of the broader community.

Through interactions with various individuals and groups, we internalize these shared understandings and develop a sense of how we should behave in different social contexts. The Generalized Other serves as a guiding force for our actions and shapes our sense of self.


Mead’s Theory of the Social Self provides valuable insights into how individuals develop their sense of self through social interaction. It emphasizes the role of language, symbols, and gestures in shaping our understanding of ourselves and our place in society.

By recognizing that the self is not an isolated entity but rather a product of social interaction, Mead’s theory challenges traditional notions of individualism. It highlights the interconnectedness between individuals and society, emphasizing the importance of communication and shared meanings in shaping our identities.

Understanding Mead’s theory can provide valuable insights into how individuals navigate social interactions, form their identities, and contribute to society. By recognizing the power of social influences on the self, we can strive for greater empathy and understanding in our interactions with others.