On Cooley's 'looking-glass self' and Mead's 'I' and 'Me'


Charles Horton Cooley
Socialization is the process whereby social institutions teach its members how to properly interact in a society. It also helps its members develop a sense of self (the "self" is a unique sense of identity that distinguishes people from others). But socialization can also be negative. A lot of times it can develop people into conforming citizens rather than free-thinkers or people with agency (a person's capacity to act independently; to have free will). 

To further illustrate the flaws of socialization, we will borrow Charles Horton Cooley's symbolic interactionist concept of the "looking-glass self."

The "looking-glass self" explains that humans develop an identity through the process of how others socially perceive them. Cooley says in his book, Human Nature and the Social Order, that there are three steps to this phenomena.
"A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal elements: the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification."

George Herbert Mead
Another concept many use to explain the process of socialization would be George Herbert Mead's the "I" and the "Me."

To define the "I," imagine a little egotistical kid who has a bad temper and is an impulsive artist. That's basically what the "I" is. Mead says that the "I" is the part of the self that is spontaneous, impulsive and creative. Basically, it is the behaviors that are un-socialized.

The "Me," on the other hand, is the preppy adult who always follows the rules and is very polite and respectful to others. This is the part of the "self" that is concerned with how others will view it.

When combined, the "Me" will regulate how much chimpanzee (or the "I"), if you will, the self will release in its behaviors. Basically, the "Me" makes us think before we act.

The concepts of "looking glass self," and "I" and "Me" show that we, as socialized products of society, are always thinking of how others think of us and we will change ourselves to fit in with societal standards. In the next article, I will further explain this statement by sharing a story that recently happened to me.

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