Friday, September 21, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 6.3 Role-taking

6.3 Role-taking

According to Cooley, the self is developed through interaction with others. The problem here is how we interpret and use the words and gestures of others. Mead’s (1934/1967) solution to this problem is through role-taking. Scheff (1990a) argues that:

For Mead, meaning is created in the process of role taking: in an encounter, each person can solve the problem of reference by a method of successive approximation, which involves shuttling back and forth between imagination and observation. Observing the outer signs, the words and gestures, one imagines the reference…This cycle, which involves a movement from outer signs to inner experience, can be repeated, many times, until one is virtually certain of the reference (Scheff 1990a: 9).

This interpretive understanding involves a process between people who interact with each other through what Mead (1934/1967) calls role-taking. Each person can come very close to sharing inner experiences with other people. People can therefore come very close to intersubjective understanding (Scheff 1984; 1990a). It is through this sharing with others that the self develops. The self is not innate, but as Mead (1934/1967) says “develops in the given individual as a result of his relations to that process as a whole and to other individuals within that process” (Mead 1934/1967: 135).

Shott (1972) argues that role-taking emotions are of two types: reflexive role-taking emotions, which are directed toward oneself and comprise guilt, shame, embarrassment, pride, and vanity; and empathic role-taking emotions, which are evoked by mentally placing oneself in another’s position and feeling what the other feels or what one would feel in such a position. Reflexive role-taking feelings entail considering how one’s self appears to others or the generalized other and, unless experienced empathetically, are directed toward the self. Thus, they are, in effect, emotional self-conceptions. Both reflexive and empathic role-taking emotions are significant motivators of normative and moral conduct and, hence, facilitate social control. Symbolic interactionistic theory focuses on role-taking and social control, and can therefore be useful in analyzing the manner in which role-taking emotions facilitate social control. Shott (1972) argues that there are three fundamental propositional areas where symbolic interactionism is particularly relevant to this area; individuals have the capacity to treat themselves as objects (Blumer 1969/1986); the self-conceptions of actors and their capacity for mental self-interaction are derived largely from role-taking (Mead 1934/1967); and social control is self-control (Mead 1934/1967).

Mead (1934/167) distinguishes between the self and the body, explaining the sensation one might have as being outside of one’s body in some situations:

The body can be there and can operate in a very intelligent fashion without there being a self involved in the experience. The self has the characteristic that it is an object to itself, and that characteristic distinguishes it from other objects and from the body…The parts of the body are quite distinguishable from the self. We can lose parts of the body without any serious invasion of the self…The body does not experience itself as a whole, in the sense in which the self in some way enters into the experience of the self (Mead 1934/1967: 136)

This understanding of the self and the body is an important factor in the analysis of the interviews in this study. Many informants talk about the division between self and body that they have experienced; their bodies have been exploited, misused, raped, but at the same time they have experienced that their minds have “flown away like birds” and in a way not been a part of the transgression. This creates a problem for the person involved because, even though the self and the body can be distinguished from each other, the body still belongs to the self. Mead says that “the foot and hand belong to the self” (Mead 1934/1967: 136) so when one feels that the body no longer belongs to one’s self, serious problems can arise as a result.

Kaare T. Pettersen

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