During which of Mead's stages of the self does a child begin to "become" a doctor, a parent, a superhero, or a ship captain?


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Tony Fyler answered
The answer to this depends on how we define "becoming".

Mead's theory contends, that the self develops as "several me's and an I" as distinct from "the other" early on. Indeed, he seems to contend that the very earliest form of play - make-believe, where the child imagines (often, if not always, entirely without any true understanding of the complexities of the roles they take on) themselves as "mummy", "daddy", fulfilling some admired profession of "the other" or some hero-figure from the fiction to which they are exposed - is where the ability to see the world through "the other's" eyes begins, and therefore where the self - which both generates this imaginary world of the other, and keeps the "me's" and the "I" distinct from it - is first realized.

So, it would be easy to argue that, it is at this first stage of play that the child first starts "becoming" something else. It is from this process that Mead contends we begin to develop our socialization skills, through this (albeit ill-informed and idealized) playing of other roles. This is, then broadened in other games, usually with other children, in which each child has to be able to put themselves in each other's place in order, say, to obey the rules or constructs of the game. This in turn leads to the development of Mead's "generalized other", which is crucial for the development of the self, and the longer-term, more deliberate taking on of "other" roles - one needs to have developed this sense of the generalized "other", before one can dedicate and choose to be a short-stop, or a goalkeeper.

Therefore, while it is true to say that according to Mead, the earliest form of play allows children to take on the roles of their parents, or Spiderman, or Babe Ruth, it is arguably only after they have developed the generalized "other" concept that they are able to properly formulate - and mean, with some understanding - the idea that "I'd like to be a dad someday, or a ship captain, or the next Al Pacino.". At a point, at which they can confidently express such an aspiration, it is possible to suggest, that they have taken the first step to "becoming" any of these things - aspiration being the key to achievement

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