Practice Question – According to Mead, “We play a key role in our own socialization.”  [UPSC 2019]

Approach – Introduction, Explain and interlink his theories of (Mind, Self and Society), Explain I and Me concept in the context of Socialisation, Critique, Conclusion



  1. Max Weber is known as a principal architect of modern social science along with Karl Marx and Emil Durkheim. 
  2. Max Weber’s concept of the iron cage is even more relevant today than when he first wrote about it in 1905. Simply put, Weber suggests that the technological and economic relationships that organized and grew out of capitalist production became themselves fundamental forces in society. Thus, if you are born into a society organized this way, with the division of labor and hierarchical social structure that comes with it, you can’t help but live within this system. As such, one’s life and worldview are shaped by it to such an extent that one probably can’t even imagine what an alternative way of life would look like. So, those born into the cage live out its dictates, and in doing so, reproduce the cage in perpetuity.
  3. He reasoned that the level of prestige associated with one’s education and occupation, as well as one’s political group affiliations, in addition to wealth, combine to create a hierarchy of people in society. Weber’s thoughts on power and social stratification, which he shared in his book titled Economy and Society, led to the complex formulations of socioeconomic status and social class.
  4. Weber emphasised the need for the researcher to separate his/her ‘value judgments’ from ‘judgements of fact’, by rigorous examination of factual data and the development of clearly defined concepts which help us to understand the different configurations of a social phenomenon under specific circumstances. This led him to develop his formulation of the ‘ideal type’. Ideal type is a methodological tool in which a certain model or construct of the reality to be studied is formulated by the researcher, by abstracting the most prominent features of that phenomenon.
  5. Max Weber conceived of sociology as a comprehensive science of social action. In this sense, he diverged from thinkers like Marx and Durkheim who placed greater emphasis on social structure rather than individual action in shaping human behaviour. Weber’s sociological work was geared towards understanding “the subjective meanings that human actors attach to their actions in their mutual orientations within specific social-historical contexts”.
  6. According to Weber, the contemporary world is characterised by rationality. Max Weber believed that the key to understand modern society is to be found in its rational features and rationalising forces.
  7. General meaning of the term bureaucracy is the rule by departmental or administrative officials following inflexible procedures. Max Weber emphasized the indispensability of bureaucracy for the rational attainment of the goals of any organization in industrial society.
  8. For Max Weber, power is an aspect of social relationships. It refers to the possibility of imposing one’s will upon the behaviour of another person.
  9. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was published in German in 1905.  This text is notable for how Weber merged economic sociology with his sociology of religion, and as such, for how he researched and theorized the interplay between the cultural realm of values and beliefs, and the economic system of society. Weber argues in the text that capitalism developed to the advanced stage that it did in the West due to the fact that Protestantism encouraged the embrace of work as a calling from God, and consequently, a dedication to work that allowed one to earn a lot of money. This, combined with the value asceticism of living a simple earthly life devoid of costly pleasures fostered an acquisitive spirit. 



  1. Best known for developing theories of deviance, as well as the concepts of “self-fulfilling prophecy” and “role model,” Robert K. Merton is considered one of America’s most influential social scientists.
  2. Merton’s theory of anomie is a borrowing but essentially different from that of Durkheim. Its essence is that anomie is a social response, or adaptation, due to a disjuncture between socially approved means (e.g., education) and culturally accepted goals (earn high income). Anomie is a strain placed upon people to behave in ways that are not conducive to societal stability. On the other hand, Durkheim theorized that if the human appetite for goals was not regulated and became limitless, anomie would ensue, and from anomie, strain would emerge. Such strain would manifest itself in a variety of forms, one of which could be deviant behavior.
  3. Merton believed that a middle-range theory is more appropriate for verification purposes, hence his work on “Social Structure and Anomie.” His is an alternative to so-called meta-narratives of sociologists like Talcott Parsons. However, Merton acknowledged that a theory may produce a result quite different from what is stated. This unanticipated consequence, or serendipity, sometimes comes as a surprise for many people.
  4. Another theory attributed to Merton is the self-fulfilling prophecy. It states that prediction comes true because people believe in it and, in fact, make it happen. 
  5. On the basis of his critique of the functionalist paradigm, Merton develops his now famous conceptualization of manifest and latent functions, whereby manifest functions are defined as those functions that are intended and typically widely recognized, while latent functions do not have these qualities.
  6. Underlying his critique of functionalism is Merton’s central notion of social structure as referring to the positions and networks involved with social norms that offer both constraints as well as opportunities. As such, Merton’s structuralism is indebted to both the sociology of Durkheim as well as the social theory of Karl Marx in focusing on both life chances and social conflict generated by the characteristics of the social structure.
  7. With respect to Merton’s main areas of investigation, his work dealt with such important social issues as deviant behavior, bureaucratization, groups, science, and knowledge.
  8. According to Merton, “Reference Group behaviour theory aims to systematize the determinants and consequences of those processes of evaluation and sub-appraisal, in which the individual takes the values or standards of other individuals and groups, as a comparative frame of reference.”



  1. Among sociologists, Mead is most well known for his theory of the self, which he presented in his well-regarded and much-taught book “Mind, Self and Society” (published in 1934 after his death and edited by Charles W. Morris). 
  2. Mead’s theory of the self maintains that the idea people have of themselves stems from social interaction with others. This theory opposes biological determinism because it holds that the self does not exist at birth and may not be present at the beginning of a social interaction, but it is constructed and reconstructed in the process of social experience and activity.​ The self, according to Mead, is made up of two components: the “I” and the “me.” The “me” represents the expectations and attitudes of others (the “generalized other”) organized into a social self. Individuals define their behavior in reference to the generalized attitude of the social group(s) they occupy. When people can view themselves from the standpoint of the generalized other, self-consciousness in the full sense of the term is attained. 
  3. The development of the self is dependent on learning to take the role of the other. Role taking requires that we imagine how our behavior will be defined from the standpoint of others (as in Cooley’s “looking-glass self”). For Mead, role taking occurs throughout the developmental process by which the self is constructed and refined.
  4. For Mead and later symbolic interactionists, language is the distinguishing criterion for being human. Mead believed that if one’s actions evoke the same response in others, then
    the meaning of symbols is no longer private but a behavioral reality that can be studied. 
  5. Society consists of the generalized social attitudes that continually emerge through coordinated interaction between individuals and groups. Social order is continually emerging through the ongoing activities of individuals who are reflexively taking the attitude of others and attempting to make sense of (i.e., define) and navigate the situations in which they collectively find themselves.

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