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Generalized other

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The generalized other is a concept used in the social sciences, especially in symbolic interactionism. It is the general notion that a person has of the common expectations that others have about actions and thoughts within a particular society. Any time that an actor tries to imagine what is expected of them, they are taking on the perspective of the generalized other.

As a concept, it is roughly equivalent to the idea of the Freudian superego.

Generalized other – George Herbert Mead maintained that the experience of role-play and pretence in early childhood were vital for the formation of a mature sense of self, which may only be achieved by the child learning to take on the role of the other, i.e., seeing things from another person’s perspective. By doing this, the child may eventually be able to visualize the intentions and expectations of others and see him/herself from not just another’s point of view but from groups of others. The generalized other represents the common standpoints of those groups.

The attitude of the generalized other is the attitude of the larger community. According to Mead, the generalized other is the vehicle by which we are linked to society.

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