Sociological theories of the self attempt to explain how social processes such as socialization influence the development of the self. One of the most important sociological approaches to the self was developed by American sociologist George Herbert Mead . Mead conceptualizes the mind as the individual importation of the social process. Mead presented the self and the mind in terms of a social process. As gestures are taken in by the individual organism, the individual organism also takes in the collective attitudes of others, in the form of gestures, and reacts accordingly with other organized attitudes.
This process is characterized by Mead as the "I" and the "me. " The "me" is the social self and the "I" is the response to the "me. " In other words, the "I" is the response of an individual to the attitudes of others, while the "me" is the organized set of attitudes of others which an individual assumes. The "me" is the accumulated understanding of the "generalized other," i.e. how one thinks one's group perceives oneself. The "I" is the individual's impulses. The "I" is self as subject; the "me" is self as object. The "I" is the knower, the "me" is the known. The mind, or stream of thought, is the self-reflective movements of the interaction between the "I" and the "me. " These dynamics go beyond selfhood in a narrow sense, and form the basis of a theory of human cognition. For Mead the thinking process is the internalized dialogue between the "I" and the "me. "
Understood as a combination of the "I" and the "me," Mead's self proves to be noticeably entwined within a sociological existence. For Mead, existence in a community comes before individual consciousness. First one must participate in the different social positions within society and only subsequently can one use that experience to take the perspective of others and become self-conscious.