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Symbolic Interaction and the emergence of self

Mead talks about three forms of inter-subjective activity: Language, play and the game. These forms of symbolic interaction (social interactions that take place via shared symbols such as words, definitions, roles, gestures, rituals etc) are the major paradigms in his theory of socialization and are the basic social processes that render the reflexive objectification of the self possible. Language is communication vie significant symbols and it is through significant communication that the individual is able to take the attitudes of others toward oneself. Language is not only a necessary mechanism of mind but also the primary social foundation of self. Within the linguistic act the individual takes the role of the other i.e responds to his/her own gestures in terms of the symbolized attitudes of others. This process of taking the role of the other within the process of symbolic interaction is the primal form of self-objectification and is essential to self-realization. Mead's self as object is the basic structure of human experience that arises in response to other persons in an organic social –symbolic world of internal relations.

This becomes even clearer in Mead's interpretation of playing and gaming. In playing and gaming as in linguistic activity the key to the generation of self-consciousness is the process of role-playing. In play the child takes the role of another and acts as though she/he were the other. This form of role playing involves a single role at a time. Thus the other which comes into the child's experience in play is a specific other. The game involves a more complex form of role playing than that involved in play. In the game the individual is required to internalize not merely the character of a single and specific other but the roles of all others who are involved with him in the game. He must comprehend the rules of the game which condition the various roles. This configuration of roles-organized according to the rules brings the attitude of all participants together to form a symbolized unity: this unity is the generalized other.

The generalized other is an organized and generalized attitude with reference to which the individual defines her/his conduct. When the individual can view himself from the standpoint of the generalized other, self-consciousness in the full sense of the term is attained. The game is the stage of the social process at which the individual attains selfhood. One of the Mead's most outstanding contributions to the development of critical social theory is his analysis of games. Mead says that the full social and psychological significance of game playing and the extent to which the game functions is an instrument of social control.