Impact of Two Sociological Theorists on Society

Two theorists, Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead, use sociological theory to develop their views on the interactions and structures of society. Sociological Theory relies on evidence from senses and from the social world itself to arrive at its conclusions, it is an abstract, symbolic representation of, and explanation of, social reality, and a disciplined manner about the social world (Adams, Sydie 2001, p1,4).

Everyone uses sociology in some way of thinking: when guessing why someone acts in a certain way, or why something happened, this is just a couple of things that we as people do everyday. Sociologist however, have more in depth thought and do more research, as well as gathering evidence to support these thoughts and then hope to present them in publications for society. Cooley and Meads views have made a significant impact, not only in sociological world, but also in the view of the world. Each theorist has made different contributions to society but, they also have similarities in some aspects of sociology.

Charles Horton Cooley, our first theorist, was born 1864, in Ann Arbor, Michigan the son of a law professor at University of Michigan. Cooley was inspired by William James, John Dewey, as well as Darwin, and the developments in German Psychology. Herbert Spencer also influenced him but fell away from his views, as did most theorists. Cooley suffered from ill health, and as a semi-invalid, he read extensively and indulged in “much day-dreaming” (Reiss 1968:3). He was unenthusiastic about engineering, and did a graduate degree in political economy and sociology at Michigan (Adams, Sydie 2001, pp310,311). Cooley was making his contributions at the turn of the twentieth century with a main focus on the self and primary groups.

The self in a very large and interesting class of cases is the social reference that takes on the form of a somewhat definite imagination of how one’s self appears in a particular mind, and the kind of self-feeling one has is determined by the attitude toward this attributed mind. A social self of this sort might be called the reflected or looking glass self:
“Each to each a looking glass
Reflect the other that doth pass”

He felt that this looking glass self has three elements: “the imagination of out appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling.” The last element is critical cause the feeling of pride or shame is not simply the reflection of the self but the “imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind” (Cooley 1902:184-185,Adams, Sydie p313). Cooley suggested that the meaning of “I” is grasped when the child becomes aware of “self-feeling” accompanying the use of I, me and my by other” and this awakens ones “own self-feeling already existing in and inarticulate form,” and they “come to stand for self lacerative feeling or attitude, for self will and appropriation” (Cooley, 1930:230,231,Adams,Sydie p.313). Society exists in and individuals mind because of interactions with many other individuals, so that “self and society are twin-born and the notion of a separate and independent ego is an illusion” (Cooley, 1930 230,231,Adams,Sydie p313).

Intimate face-to-face association and cooperation characterize primary groups. Primary groups are primary in the sense that they give the individual the complete experience of social unity, and also in the sense that they do change in the same degree as more elaborate relations, but form a comparatively permanent source out of which the latter are ever springing. However they are not independent of the larger society, but to some extent reflect its spirit. Cooley felt that these primary groups are fundamental in forming the social nature and ideals of the individual (Cooley 1956, p23). The most important spheres of these groups are the family, play group for children, and the neighborhood or community group of elders (Cooley 1956, p24). These groups are the basis for which the individual develops and it also sets the morals that one must follow through out the various stages of life. Ideas of love, freedom, and justice also had their part in primary groups. Primary groups, however, “need to be watched and cherished with very special care” so they do not decay or disappear, because they are basis on which higher imaginations, “moral unity,” and “brotherhood” are built (Cooley 1909:33,Adams,Sydie p314). Cooley maintained that human nature is not something existing separately in the individual, but a group-nature or primary phase of society, a relatively simple and general condition of the social mind. It is something more than the mere instinct that is born in us –though that enters into it- and something less than the more elaborate development of ideas and sentiments that makes up institutions. It is nature that are developed and expressed in those simple face-to-face groups that is somewhat alike in all societies. In these types of societies that human nature comes into existence. Man does not have human nature at birth; he cannot acquire it except through fellowship, and it decays in isolation.

Cooley saw caste, or rigid inequalities between groups in society, as perpetuated by three conditions: “likeness or unlikeness in the constituent of the population; the rate of social change and the state of communication or enlightenment” (Cooley 1902:217,Adams,Sydie p.316). A more open and free society promotes divisions based on competition rather than heredity and marked a transition from caste to class society. (Adams, Sydie 2001, p.316).

Cooley understood that the self and the acceptance of others led to primary groups, that in-turn help to develop a better understanding of the self. The relationship of the self and primary groups develop society and install the morals and a since of the “we-feeling.” It was the we-feeling he wished to see prevail in society at large. The we-feeling he wished to see prevail in society at large. The we-feeling broke down caste and “wipes out conventional distinctions,” leaving only those that was functional for the organic whole (Cooley 1956:192-193).

George Herbert Mead was born in South Hadley, MA on February 27, 1863, and died in Chicago, Illinois, on April 26, 1931. Mead entered Oberlin College and earned a Bachelors Degree. He earned a Masters Degree in Philosophy at Harvard University and lived with William James during this time. He later worked at the University of

Michigan and worked with and was influenced by Charles Horton Cooley, William James, and John Dewey which gives them some of the same views of the development of the self. Mead and Dewey moved to the University of Chicago where Mead taught mostly social psychology and took major roles in the time of Pragmatist movement in Chicago. Mead’s major contribution to social psychology was his attempt to show how the human self arises in the process of social interaction, especially by way of symbolic interaction.

The process of social interaction use symbolic communication whish is the use of signs, such as gestures, to convey meaning. When the gesture is more than a reflex action that stimulates a response in the other, it becomes a significant symbol. A significant symbol is a gesture that has a meaning behind it, such that the symbol “answers to the meaning in the experience of the first individual and also calls out the meaning in the second individual (Mead, 1964a:157,Adams,Sydie p321). Mead supports the view that an analysis of the various meanings of objects and situations depends finally on role taking and the use of significant symbols. Analysis requires a mind having a social component, which is constitutive and necessary to every individual mind (Mead, 1982,p11). Meads illustration of a dog fight, in which each dog’s action is a stimulus for the other dog; as the act is “responded to by the other dog; it in turn, undergoes change” (Mead 1964a:154,Adams,Sydie p321). However, conversations of gestures do not have to be significant gestures. Gestures become significant when there is attitude behind them (Adams, Sydie 2001,p321). Therefore “A conversation of gestures consists simply

in continued readjustment of one individual to another” (Miller, 1982,p10). Mead viewed the social self as a social object dependent on communication through symbols and gestures. Through such communication humans take part in social interaction, and this brings about actions and reactions by others, this view by others cause the self to develop. People taking the attitudes of others became known as the generalized other (Mead 1964b:253-284,Adams,Sydie p322). The role taking of others develops in two stages: the play stage and the game stage. The play stage involves the child taking the role of others, such as role of parents, it represents relatively simple role taking because one role at a time is played and the relationship between roles is not clearly understood (Adams,Sydie 2001,p323). The game stage deals with the ability to understand connections between roles. At this stage the child must “not only take the role of other, but must assume the various roles of all participants in the game, and govern his actions accordingly” (Mead, 1964b:285,Adams,Sydie p322). In the game stage, the child learns to “function in the organized whole, and this tends to determine his relationship with the group to which he belongs”(Mead, 1934:160,Adams,Sydie p322). The game stage is the ability of the person to take the role of the generalized other and developing the self emerges from these stages.

The self that emerges from taking the attitudes of others Mead is referred to as the “Me.” The “Me” represents the attitudes of others that the self is aware of and to which the “I” responded (Mead, 1964a:230,Adams,Sydie p325). The “Me” contains the social knowledge of roles, structures, values, and beliefs and their implications for social action.

The “Me” represents self-control as the “expression of the ‘me” against the expression of the ‘I’” (Mead,1964a:238-239,Adams,Sydie p325).

The full nature of these levels of “me” comes into proper relief only when we understand the meaning and function of the “I” (Natanson, 1973 p16). The ”I,” is the creative, imaginative part of the self, which Mead believed is evident in artist (Adams, Sydie 2001,p325). Mead understood the “I” as a transcendent act in which the unique self, the person, adds to or goes beyond traditional or typical behavior. In this sense, the contribution of the “I” to the individuals behavior is that of an emergent, novel quality that transcends the “me.” The “I” also “both calls out the ‘me’ and responds to it” (Natanson, 1973,p16).

Both “I” and “me” relate necessarily to social experience: without the common-sense world of other persons with whom the individual interacts, without “society” with its economic, moral, and cultural organization, it is not meaningful to speak of a “self,” let alone the special aspect of the self termed the “I” and “me” (Natanson, 1973,p16). The individual takes the attitude of the “me” or the attitude of “I” according to the situations in which one finds themselves. The “I” and the “me” is a dynamic relationship that involves the constant interaction of both to develop the self. The process of determining the self puts society in a constant changing atmosphere, described as social change.

The constant interaction of the “I,” “me,” and social change, Mead felt, is a dialectical relation between individuals and society and the self emerges out of these interactions. For Mead society is the product of reflexive individuals’ taking account of others, and mind and self can only develop in society (Adams, Sydie 2001,p327). Society then is based on social acts, which the occasion or stimulus which sets free impulses is found in the character or conduct of a living form that belongs to the proper environment of the living form that whose impulse it is (Natanson,1973,p18).

Cooley and Mead shared a lot of views and have some of the same ideas. This could be due to the fact that they were colleagues at the University of Michigan between 1891 and 1893. Both were also influenced by William James and John Dewey, as well as Darwin and his developments. Mead was influenced by Cooley’s ideas on the interactive, communicative nature of society, and the ideas that the self was created from such interactions, beginning in attachment to small, primary groups, through which links to larger social structures are established (Adams,Sydie 2001,p319). Mead and Cooley were both concerned with the self, but also with the solutions to the many social problems that hand resulted form industrialization, urbanization, and mass immigration to the United States. Both felt that scientific sociology is the answer to the problems that challenge a democratic society (Adams, Sydie 2001, p310). Cooley and Mead’s views of the self had and still has great impacts on how we develop in society today, it also set the stage for the development of symbolic interactions, which is the explanation of interactions through the use of symbols for communication. Both also stressed the need to preserve and enlarge democratic freedoms. Mead and Cooley believed that the success of reform efforts depends on the use of scientific methods, with the sociologist having great contributions to make (Adams, Sydie 2001, p329). With both theorist coming through at the same time and having the same Pragmatic influence, one can see why there contributions to the sociological world have similarities.

Need a Custom Sociology Paper?