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Generalized Other

  The term ‘generalized other’ was originally coined by G.H. Mead (1863 - 1931), but its major influence has been on the branch of sociology known as symbolic interactionism. It refers to the individual\'s conception of the general attitudes and values of those people within society with whom he or she interacts.

According to Mead the generalized other emerges during the ‘game-stage’ of childhood development. Through the playing of games, for example, ‘mothers and fathers’ children imaginatively assume other social roles, and in so doing become aware of their own position and social roles within the general scheme of social activity.

Mead believed this shared perspective of the generalized other enables individuals to engage in social interaction. It is through social interaction with others that one\'s sense of ‘self’ becomes established.

The concept of the generalized other is important because it attempts to bring together the individual self and the larger society in order to explain how social order is established. The generalized other acts as an important constraining influence on individual behaviour in that it will be regulated in terms of the supposed opinions and attitudes he or she attributes to others. DA

See also action perspective; dramaturgical model; idiographic; individualism; internalization; norms; role; socialization; social order; social self; structure-agency debate.Further reading G.H. Mead, Mind, Self and Society (1934) and The Philosophy of the Act (1938); , A. Strauss, George Hebert Mead on Social Psychology (1964).



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