Socialization and Difference. We all pass through the same stages of socialization, and yet we all wind up somewhat different. How does this occur? In your post, discuss how either Meadâ€™s socialization process or Cooleyâ€™s looking-glass self process could lead to behavioral differences among, for instance, women and men, or between members of different ethnic groups, classes, or subcultues. Be specific! For instance, might children experience different kinds of play and games, take different roles, and have different understandings of the generalized other? You may want to look at Schaeferâ€™s discussions of differences in socialization found throughout Module 15 (e.g., â€œThe Impact of Race and Genderâ€ and â€œChild Care Around the Worldâ€) The Looking-Glass SelfMeads self is very important: it allows us to interact with others, to think and reason, and tomake plans. But there is another side to the self which Mead paid little attention to: the moreemotional aspects, including how we feel about ourselves. Luckily, this part of the self wasexplored by another American sociologist and founder of interactionism, Charles HortonCooley, who lived at approximately the same time as Mead and was an influence on his work.Cooley developed the concept of the looking-glass self to describe our self-image and selfevaluations, which are based on our interactions with others (this is a slight extension of theSchaefer definition in Module 14). The concept is related to the more popular idea of selfesteem, which refers to our self-confidence or self-satisfaction. However, there are somecrucial differences: (1) self-esteem implies a positive self-evaluation, while the looking-glassself does not; (2) self-esteem implies a quantity (it can be high or low), while the lookingglass self refers to qualities (we think of ourselves as nice or mean, smart or dumb, tough orweak, etc.), and (3) the concept of the looking-glass self emphasizes that the source of ourself-evaluations is our interactions with others.How do interactions result in the looking-glass self? Cooley described a three steps process,which I will illustrate with an example (in parentheses):First, we imagine how we appear to others. (As I get ready for a big party, I imaginethat I look really good in my new outfit.)Second, we interpret others reactions to usespecially the reactions of significantothers, or people who play an important role in our lives such as parents and closefriends. (At the party I dont get any complements on my outfit and I suspect that myso-called best friends are making fun of my appearance behind my back.)Third, we evaluate ourselves based on how we understand those reactionsand ourevaluations, which may be positive or negative and center on a range of differentqualities, form the basis of our looking-glass self. (Based on my interactions at theparty, I evaluate myself in fairly negative terms; I feel that I am unfashionable andfrumpy.)As was common in his day, Cooley summarized with a quote from a poemin this case thepoem Astraea by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1847): Each to each a looking-glass, Reflects hisfigure that doth pass. A looking-glass is a mirror; essentially, Cooley (and Emerson) claimthat other people serve as our mirrors, reflecting back judgments that lead us to define andevaluate who we are.This concept of the looking-glass self has some interesting implications. First, our selfjudgments come from how we understand others reactions to usnot the reactionsthemselves. Thus, in the party example above, my negative judgment of myself as frumpycomes from my perception that my friends made fun of my outfit; that I may have mis-heardthem, and that they may not have been making fun of me at all, does not change the impact ofmy perception on my looking-glass self. Perception is reality, as the saying goes.Second, if our self-judgments and images come from interaction, that means that they are notproduced directly by objective facts or circumstances. As we saw with the concept definitionof the situation, we dont respond automatically to events; we must first interpret them inconjunction with others. Back to the party example, whether or not my outfit was objectivelyugly makes no difference to my looking-glass self; it is the interactions and my interpretationof those interactions that count, as it is from these that I construct my self-image.(Sociologically, there is no way to objectively determine the beauty or ugliness of outfitsanyway!) To extend this to some more serious examples:Grade example: The grade you get on a test, such as a C, does not directly determine youracademic self-image; instead, your self-image is shaped by the grade and the reactions thatothers have to it, especially those of significant other such as parents, peers, and teachers. Insome circles, a C is passing and thats greatsomething to be proud of. In others, a C is twonotches below the only acceptable grade, A, and hence a source of shame. How your Cmakes you feel is going to depend on which set of interpretations youve been exposed to inthe past. Your reaction is socially constructed, not automatic.Race and self-esteem example: In the 1950s and 1960s, the overwhelming majority of socialscientists and policy-makers assumed that the racism prevalent in American society, coupledwith the poor economic status of many blacks, had a negative impact on black childrens selfesteem, causing it to be much lower than white childrens self-esteem. Then, a groundbreaking study (Rosenberg and Simmons 1971) showed that the opposite was the case: for themost part, black childrens self-esteem was actually higher than that of whites. How couldthis be the case? The studys authors used Mead and Cooleys theories to argue thatchildrens self-esteem does not result from objective social conditions, such as poverty andracism, but rather from how these conditions impact childrens interactions with others intheir immediate social environments. The extreme segregation that existed in the 1960s meantthat most black children were largely isolated from whites, and from direct experiences ofracism such as name-calling. Further, racial segregation also created economic segregation:all but the very poorest black children could look around, see only others in similarcircumstances, and conclude that their families doing alright. Finally, the childrens familieswere mostly warm and supportive, mirroring positive evaluations from which the childrencould build positive looking-glass selves. Thus, although racism and poverty were real, poorself-esteem was not among their consequences for most black children. The exceptionanother initial surprisewas economically well-off black children, whose self-esteem wasworse than both well-off white kids and poorer blacks. Why? Again, it is the immediateenvironment and interactions that count. The better-off black kids were far more likely thanpoor blacks to be in or near integrated neighborhoods and schools, and thus to have directinteraction with whiteswhich included racism, name-calling, etc., and damaged their selfesteem. Thus, black kids self esteem was negatively correlated with their family economicstatus, while the opposite was true for white kids, whose self-esteem rose with their familyincome.ReferenceRosenberg, Morris, and Roberta G. Simmons. 1971. Black and White Self-Esteem: The UrbanSchool Child. Washington DC: American Sociological Association, Rose Monograph Series.
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