George Herbert Mead on humans and other animals: social relations after human-animal studies

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Abstract

The turn towards nonhuman animals within sociology has shed a critical light on George Herbert Mead, his apparent prioritisation of language and the anthropocentric focus of Symbolic Interactionism (SI). Although Herbert Blumer canonised Mead as the founder of this perspective he also played a key role in excising the evolutionary and 'more-than-human' components in Mead's work. This intervention not only misrepresented Mead's intellectual project, it also made symbols the predominant concern in Blumer's version of SI. Since groundbreaking animal sociologists in America framed much of their thinking in opposition to SI's emphasis on language, because it excluded alingual animal others from sociological consideration, Mead's Mind, Self, and Society has largely functioned as a negative classic within this sub-field. Although some scholars recognise there is more in Mead's work that is potentially applicable to this interspecies area the attempt to recover what might be helpful has yet to begin (e.g. Alger & Alger 1997). This paper suggests that if the ambiguities and contradictions that exist alongside Mead's oft-quoted anthropocentrisms are also attended to this may open up a more positive reading and use of Mead's work for animal sociology.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Number of pages13
JournalSociological Research Online
Volume18
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2013

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Social Relations
animal
symbolic interactionism
sociology
language
sociologist
symbol
opposition

Keywords

  • mead
  • symbolic interactionism
  • human-animal studies
  • animal turn

Cite this

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abstract = "The turn towards nonhuman animals within sociology has shed a critical light on George Herbert Mead, his apparent prioritisation of language and the anthropocentric focus of Symbolic Interactionism (SI). Although Herbert Blumer canonised Mead as the founder of this perspective he also played a key role in excising the evolutionary and 'more-than-human' components in Mead's work. This intervention not only misrepresented Mead's intellectual project, it also made symbols the predominant concern in Blumer's version of SI. Since groundbreaking animal sociologists in America framed much of their thinking in opposition to SI's emphasis on language, because it excluded alingual animal others from sociological consideration, Mead's Mind, Self, and Society has largely functioned as a negative classic within this sub-field. Although some scholars recognise there is more in Mead's work that is potentially applicable to this interspecies area the attempt to recover what might be helpful has yet to begin (e.g. Alger & Alger 1997). This paper suggests that if the ambiguities and contradictions that exist alongside Mead's oft-quoted anthropocentrisms are also attended to this may open up a more positive reading and use of Mead's work for animal sociology.",
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