George Herbert Mead Biography


Birthday: February 27, 1863 (Pisces)

Born In: South Hadley, Massachusetts, United States

George Herbert Mead was an American sociologist, philosopher, and psychologist, who was associated with the ‘University of Chicago.’ He is remembered as one of the most significant pragmatists in history. He is also known as a pioneer of symbolic interactionism and what is now known as the Chicago sociological tradition. Some of his most prominent works were on social philosophy, the theory of the self, and the philosophy of science. He wrote extensively on the importance of “language,” “play,” “game,” and the “generalized other” in forming the self. He continued teaching at the ‘University of Chicago’ till his death in 1931. Although he had a rich body of work, his works were never published as books before his death. Four of his major posthumous publications were ‘The Philosophy of the Present’ (1932), ‘Mind, Self, and Society’ (1934), ‘Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century’ (1936), and ‘The Philosophy of the Act’ (1938).
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 68


Spouse/Ex-: Helen Kingsbury Castle (m. 1891–1929)

father: Hiram Mead

mother: Elizabeth Storrs Mead

siblings: Alice

Philosophers Sociologists

Died on: April 26, 1931

place of death: Chicago

Cause of Death: Heart Failure

U.S. State: Massachusetts

More Facts

education: The University of Chicago, Oberlin College, University of Michigan, Oberlin Academy, Harvard University

Childhood & Early Years
George Herbert Mead was born on February 27, 1863, in South Hadley, Massachusetts, United States, to Hiram Mead and Elizabeth Storrs (Billings) Mead. His was a middle-class Protestant family.
He had a sister named Alice. His father was a former pastor from a family of farmers and clergymen.
In 1869, he and his family moved to Oberlin, Ohio. There, his father earned a position at the ‘Theological Seminary’ of ‘Oberlin College.’ His mother had taught for a while at ‘Oberlin College’ and was also the president at ‘Mount Holyoke College’ in Massachusetts.
Mead joined the ‘Oberlin Academy’ at ‘Oberlin College’ in 1879. He then graduated with a B.A. degree in 1883.
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Early Career
Following his graduation, he taught grade school for 4 months. For the next 3 years, he was a surveyor at the ‘Wisconsin Central Railroad Company.’
Mead joined ‘Harvard University’ in 1887, where he focused on psychology and philosophy. There, he got acquainted with Josiah Royce and William James.
In 1888, he left ‘Harvard’ with a B.A. and then shifted to Leipzig, Germany. In Leipzig, he studied with psychologist Wilhelm Wundt and learned about the concept of "the gesture," which influenced much of his work later.
Although he did not complete his dissertation, Mead earned a job at the ‘University of Michigan’ in 1891. There, he met John Dewey, Alfred Lloyd, and Charles H. Cooley, who influenced his works.
In 1894, Mead, along with Dewey, moved to the ‘University of Chicago,’ where he continued to teach till his death. Dewey influenced Mead to work on educational theory, but Mead soon extended his studies to psychological theories. Along with James Hayden Tufts, they formed a trio known as the "Chicago Pragmatists."
He participated in Chicago's political and social affairs and also worked for the ‘City Club of Chicago.’ He also served as a treasurer of Chicago's ‘Hull House.’
Pragmatism & Symbolic Interaction
Much of his later work revolved around pragmatism and social (not psychological) behaviorism. According to pragmatism, true reality does not exist in the real world and is created by our actions. Pragmatism also believes that people create their realities based on what has been useful to them and discard the rest.
Mead’s theories focused on the interaction between the “actor” and the world, and the actor's interpretation of the social world.
Social Philosophy (Behaviorism)
One of his most important works was the generation of mind and self from the communication between organisms, better known as social behaviorism. This concept was the precursor of the symbolic interaction theory, a major component of sociology, which also gave rise to the theory of transactionalism.
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Theory of the Self
Mead is best known for his theory of the self, described in detail in the book ‘Mind, Self and Society’ (published posthumously in 1934). His theory states that the “self” that people have is a result of their social interaction with others.
His theory is against the theory of biological determinism, as according to him the self is not present at birth but is constructed and reconstructed through social experience.
Mead’s “self” has two parts: the “I” and the “me.” The “me” stands for expectations and attitudes of the "generalized other," forming a social self. Thus, people behave according to the social groups they belong to. The “I” is a person’s individuality.
He also stated that the self is formed through language, play, and game. Mead stated that children start understanding the social world through "play" and "game.” Through "play" a child takes on roles that he/she observes in adult society.
In the “game” stage, a child starts accommodating others, thus developing his/her own personality, as he/she starts functioning in organized groups. This is also Mead’s idea of the “generalized other.”
Philosophy of Science
With regard to the philosophy of science, Mead set out to find the psychological origin of science. He believed our scientific concepts are based on manipulatory experience. In science, one creates hypothetical objects to help oneself in controlling nature.
Major Works
Although Mead wrote countless articles and reviews on psychology and philosophy, none of them were published as books in his lifetime.
Following his death, some of his students edited four volumes from the notes and records of his lectures on social psychology at the ‘University of Chicago.’ Those volumes are the ‘The Philosophy of the Present’ (1932), ‘Mind, Self, and Society’ (1934), ‘Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century’ (1936), and ‘The Philosophy of the Act’ (1938).
Some of his major published papers were ‘Suggestions Towards a Theory of the Philosophical Disciplines’ (1900), ‘What Social Objects Must Psychology Presuppose’ (1910), ‘Social Consciousness and the Consciousness of Meaning’ (1910), ‘The Mechanism of Social Consciousness’ (1912), ‘The Social Self’ (1913), ‘Scientific Method and the Individual Thinker’ (1917), ‘A Behavioristic Account of the Significant Symbol’ (1922), ‘The Genesis of Self and Social Control’ (1925), ‘The Objective Reality of Perspectives’ (1926), ‘The Philosophies of Royce, James, and Dewey in Their American Setting’ (1929), and ‘The Nature of the Past’ (1929).
The 1964-published ‘Selected Writings: George Herbert Mead’ contained 25 of his published articles. ‘George Herbert Mead. Essays on his Social Psychology’ was published by John W. Petras 4 years later. It was a collection of 15 articles, including a few unpublished manuscripts.
In 2001, Mary Jo Deegan published ‘Essays in Social Psychology.’ It was based on a project that was abandoned by Mead back in the early 1910s. Filipe Carreira da Silva edited ‘G.H. Mead. A Reader’ tin 2010. It consisted of 30 of Mead's most significant articles, including 10 previously unpublished works.
‘The Mead Project’ at the Ontario-based ‘Brock University’ wishes to publish all of Mead's 80 remaining unpublished works.
Family, Personal Life & Death
In 1891, Mead got married to Helen Kingsbury Castle. Helen was the sister of Henry Northrup Castle, who was a friend Mead had met at ‘Oberlin.’ Helena and Henry had gone to study at ‘Oberlin’ from Hawaii.
Mead and Helen had a son, their only child, Henry Castle Albert Mead, born on November 30, 1892.
Mead died due to heart failure on April 26, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois, United States. He was 68 at the time of his death.
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