The Communications Ideas of Mead and Goffman

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 5
Words: 1208
Reading time:
4 min

The social life of people is a rather specific matter to speculate on. This can be explained by such an interesting fact that each of us lives this social life but only a few of us stop to think what social life is and why it involves such a variety of the relations between people, between people and society, between different sides of the same person. People are always involved in dozens of relations, every day they stop a certain kind of relation in order to start another kind, and this circle is to continue while humans are social beings. Already Aristotle noticed that a human being is an animal, but the animal that is social, i. e. the one that needs relations with other representatives of the same species and, what is more important, feels necessity in constant acts of communication with other human beings.

That is why we can not argue that communication is of crucial importance for people. It is, in most cases, an interaction of two or more participants, although sometimes it can be called auto-communication, i. e. the process of communication which is taking place inside a certain personality when he or she tries to solve some kind of inner conflict or moral dilemma. But in the majority of cases communication is presented by acts of interpersonal interaction. If so, let us try to find out what interpersonal interaction is, when and how it is formed and what purposes it serves.

Interpersonal interaction is the realization of the natural need of human beings to communicate and interact with the representatives of the same species. This necessity is realized through various acts of communication, verbal and nonverbal, through actions directed at the same purpose and through setting and achieving the same goals. A person can become a participant of the interpersonal interaction only as a result of the process of socialization. As far as interpersonal interaction is a social process, it involves the socialization of people that will then take part in this interaction. Socialization is the process of the individual’s getting acquainted with the norms of the society he or she lives in. It is carried out through the communication of the individual with, at first, his or her family. They start to introduce the individual to the society explaining to him or her the norms of this community of people. So, for example, as one of the first cases of interpersonal interaction can be mentioned the communication of a child with his parents, when the child asks parents to do something for him or her, or vice versa, when parents say to the child that something is right and something is wrong, and either allow or forbid him to do this or that thing.

Another stage of the process of socialization is the phenomenon of education in all its possible meanings. When an individual acquires certain knowledge it helps him or her to be better oriented in society. Thus, an educated person can know the basic principles of communication, try to be polite, and make his or her communication acts as successful as possible. Also, the process of socialization is not limited to this kind of education. It presupposes as well social, scientific, political, sexual education. Only the combination of these phenomena allows one to call him/herself a socialized personable of interpersonal interaction. Of course, scientific thought concerning this question is much deeper and further, we are going to consider the ideas of such prominent scholars in the communication study as George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman in order to understand their influence on this matter of studying.

So, according to George Herbert Mead, the communication process is the system of relationships of an individual with the surrounding world, i. e. with other people who the author calls “the generalized Other”. In his book “Mind, Self and Society” Professor Mead gives a clear definition of communication as the interaction of individuals with each other and with the whole society. Drawing from this, Mead calls “the generalized Other” the things and actions that society expects of us in the process of this interaction. Mead’s theory implies that the social was prior to the individual. That is why it is a society that creates every single individual. In this respect, however, socialization becomes the process that is defined with the term “the generalized Other” and the very process is thought of as the two-way one. This means that not only the society influences the individual, but the individual in its turn reacts and causes certain changes in the society.

The works by another prominent scholar in the field of communication, the Canadian scientist Erving Goffman, present special interest due to the manner they are written in and to the methods of gathering the information. Peculiarities of Goffman’s method are the places where he preferred to work, usual asylums for people with mental problems, and the factor that predetermined his work. According to Goffman’s words, his aim was to learn the norms of communication in the place where they are constantly violated. It is like one can learn about the culture and norms of his or her own society by seeing that in another place these norms look differently, for example when in one city people cross streets according to the will of the crowd, a person from another city can realize that in his or her city people are more cultured because they wait for the red light to cross the street. But the essence of the theory by Goffman is the continuation of the work started by Mead.

Goffman’s interests go further to the question of the practical implementation of Mead’s theory. If Mead defines the process of the individual’s interaction with society and calls it the process of “negotiation” aimed at building up social institutions which are fluid and subject to change at any other stage of their development, Goffman studies the ways in which “negotiation” takes place in reality. He asks questions like “Who are we?”, “How we act?”, “Why we act this or that way?” and “What makes us play different roles in different situations of life?”. Goffman’s answers to these questions allow us to say that his theory is more useful because it can be used in practice and it not only gives definitions of the phenomena of communication but also helps us understand how to implement these phenomena in order to make communication easier for every person.

To make a conclusion on this very question, we should say that while answering it we managed to find out that interpersonal interaction is one of the natural needs of human beings and it is realized through the process of the socialization of individuals. Both scholars, Mead and Goffman, paid much attention to this issue and made a great contribution to its studying. While Mead’s theory is a theory only, Goffman managed to put it into practice and see how it works. That is why Goffman’s theory can e considered more useful in learning basic principles of communication studies and of true-to-life communication with other people.