G.H. Mead: The self is essentially a social structure

As noted in the post Individualism is also a relationship, I have long been curious about whether our common sense understanding of the individual as something fundamentally set apart from the rest of the world provides an accurate sense of our actual existence. Does the sense of being a separate entity cloak a more fundamental form of connectedness among people?

I am, of course, not the only person who has wondered about this question. Phrases like “I am because we are” (English expression of the African term ‘ubuntu’) have become common among those who find the traditional sense of what constitutes an individual unsatisfying. Moreover, the term social science reflects an assumption that to understand individual behavior we have to consider how that behavior is at least partially driven by social context.

Still, what is obvious to social scientists does not seem to be obvious to most of us when we leave our textbooks and laboratories and engage with ourselves and fellow humans in the world of people and things. Likewise, there are some areas of academia such as free market economics (as opposed to the newer field of behavioral economics) and rational choice theory within political science that start with the assumption that each individual is fundamentally separate from (and perhaps even in conflict with) all others.

Individualist versus collectivist?

Many concepts with clear meanings in the academy also change as they seep into popular discourse, and the popular meanings can take on a life of their own. I’ve lived half of my life in the United States, a place that is strongly associated with a sense of the individual as something that is independent of the rest of the world. I’ve spent the other half of my life in Japan, a place that is often said to exhibit collectivism, which at least in the popular imagination connotes something diametrically opposed to the individualism of the United States. There is clearly something to categories such as individualism and collectivism, and I don’t dispute that cross-cultural psychologists have validated patterns of attitudinal and behavioral differences across cultures.

Over time, though, I’ve become uncomfortable describing Americans as individualist and Japanese as collectivist, especially when these terms are used to explain and predict the attitudes and behaviors of real people with real lives. In many cases, in non-academic contexts, our use of these terms seems to be based more on confirmation bias than observation. Once we have accepted the hypothesis that Americans are individualist and Japanese are collectivist, everything we see seems to confirm the hypothesis in ways that prevent us from seeing the more nuanced realities of being a real person making a life in either place. To make sense of what these real people do in their relationships with other real people, we need to pay attention to the way they tell their own stories. In his 1996 book What Makes Life Worth Living (based on the Japanese concept ikigai), Gordon Mathews uses personal stories about real people in Japan and the United States to show how we can find both differences and commonalities between people facing similar challenges at similar life stages in different cultural environments.

Even after reading Gordon’s book, though, I still felt like something was missing. To make sense of the stories, I felt like I needed a framework that enabled me to interpret how these stories took shape in the minds of the people telling them. What was the process by which these individuals generated stories to explain who they were as individuals making their way in a world full of other people? As it turns out, this was a topic in philosophy in both Japan and the United States from the first half of the 20th century, and I found a number of thinkers who offered useful frameworks for considering the question of what it means to be an individual living and working with other individuals in groups.

Philosophers in both countries proposed frameworks that integrate the individual into the greater world rather than separating the individual from the world. In this series of articles, I introduce the ideas of three who have had an impact on my thinking: George H. Mead, Watsuji Tetsuro and Hamaguchi Eshun. I’ll start by introducing the American philosopher George H. Mead, who was particularly active in the first part of the 20th century. In subsequent articles, I’ll introduce the thinking of Watsuji Tetsuro, who was most active in the middle of the 20th century and Hamaguchi Eshun whose most significant contributions come toward the end of the 20th century.

The social self as constructed by George H. Mead

American philosopher George H. Mead was a student of John Dewey and later joined Dewey as a colleague on the faculty at the University of Chicago. He is generally associated with the pragmatist school of American philosophy, and he is seen by many as one of the founders of the field of social psychology.

The social self was at the core of Mead’s thinking. He framed the self as something that emerges in the process of our encounters with other people. He described the self as consisting of two parts: the “I” and the “me.” The “I/me” model serves as a framework that describes the relationship between the individual and society without placing them in opposition to each other. Mead sees the individual self as something that emerges in the context of relationships, but he does not see the individual as subordinate to those relationships. What follows is a high-level introduction to the “I/me” model and an exploration of some of it’s implications for individualism and collectivism.

Mead used English grammar as a device to illustrate the formation of a self. In English, a self can be described as an “I” or as a “me.” According to Mead: “It is the characteristic of the self as an object to itself that I want to bring out. This characteristic is represented in the word “self,” which is a reflexive, and indicates that which can be both subject and object.” 

Before there is “I” there is “me.”

While in our daily experience, we feel as though the “I” is the initiator or center of the self, Mead argues that our awareness of ourselves as a “me” precedes our awareness of ourselves as an “I.” We first become aware of our “selves” when we notice our “selves” as something that can be observed in the same way that we can observe another person. Mead explains as follows: “The self, as that which can be an object to itself, is essentially a social structure, and it arises in social experience.”

The focus here is on the verb ‘arise’; selves arise, they don’t just exist. The self is socially constructed, that is, it emerges through interaction with an exterior world of people and things. Since the self is socially constructed, the part or aspect of the self that emerges in any given context depends on the external situation and people involved. 

As Mead puts it:

“We carry on a whole series of relationships to different people. We are one thing to one man and another thing to another. There are parts of the self which exist only for the self in relationship to itself. We divide ourselves up in all sorts of different selves with reference to our acquaintances.”

Walt Whitman is famous for saying, ‘I contain multitudes.’ Mead provides an explanation for Whitman’s inner diversity. Mead suggests that it is only natural that each of us contains multitudes. Our encounters with the diverse people in our lives trigger and require that we generate inner multitudes to cope and thrive in the context of our relationships with the outer multitudes.

We become selves as we notice others.

In Mead’s thinking, we only become aware of our “selves” in the context of our relationships with others. “What we have here is a situation in which there can be many selves, and it is dependent upon the set of social relations that is involved as to which self we are going to be.” In each of those relationships, we consider ourselves as an object or “me” and that “me” is constructed in comparison to and in relation to other people we encounter in the world.  

In this sense, the self is fluid rather than fixed; the self’s definition only becomes clear when we are put into a specific context that leads us to construct a “self” in relation to other people. “Self-consciousness, on the other hand, is definitely organized about the social individual, and that, as we have seen, is not simply because one is in a social group and affected by others and affects them, but because (and this is the point I have been emphasizing) his own experience as a self is one which he takes over from his action upon others.  He becomes a self in so far as he can take the attitude of another and act toward himself as others act.”

To personalize this with an illustration, when I started primary school, I began to identify my “self” as a student, but this didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was possible for me to identify myself as a student because I was in the presence of teachers and other students in the context of a school. As I compared and contrasted myself with these other people, I found that in this context the way I was being treated was more similar to how the other students were being treated than to how the teachers were being treated. Based on these observations, I constructed a “me” that was a student.

Similarly, when I took up tennis, I came to identify my “self” as a tennis player. I created an identity based on my observations and interactions with others who modeled the characteristics defining what a tennis player is and does. This informed my sense of who I was in this context and enabled me to form an identity that stays with me to this day when I talk about or play tennis. Without exposure to other tennis players, there would have been no way for me to conceive of a “me” identified as a tennis player. The “me” is my socially-constructed self and it is this self that enables me to have an identity. Without those contexts, awareness of a self would not arise.

As our sense of  ourselves as a “me” emerges, we start to develop awareness of ourselves as “I,” a subject with the ability to make choices and initiate action.

In tandem with the “me” which is constructed based on our relationships with external people and objects, Mead noted that we also experience an internally-emergent “I.” Just as the “I” in a sentence is gramatically distinct from “me,” the “I” part of the self is also distinct from the “me” part of the self. The “I” is the part of the self that emerges in our actions in the world in real time. As we meet different people and encounter different situations, an array of situational “me’s” take shape within us. As this collection of past “me’s” expands, a narrative explaining how those “me’s” fit together takes shape. The “I” represents our sense of agency and choice as we bring different “me’s” forward to adapt to different situations and people.

It is not entirely clear whether we consciously choose those “me’s” or not, but we certainly experience it as a choice in the backward looking narratives that come to mind as we explain who we are, what we have done and what has been done by others to/with/for us. As my life proceeds, “I” continue to take action based on my understanding of the tennis player “me,” the student “me,” or another “me” I have constructed through my relationships and experiences. Looking back at the experience of these “me’s” in aggregate enables me to maintain a sense of myself as an independent entity with a coherent life story and identity.

Mead sees the “I” as representing our fundamental agency. He even sees the spontaneous and unpredictable nature of some of our actions as evidence that within each of us there is an “I” that learns through the emergence of various “me’s”, but which is not entirely constrained by them. The “I” does in some sense have the freedom to choose among and perhaps even to take action that is not consistent with any particular “me.” In fact, this is one part of the process by which we develop or shape this collection of “me’s.” Nonetheless, without a series of past “me” experiences (a.k.a. memories of myself acting in the world) to reflect on, there would be no material to use in the construction of a self that chooses what to do in the emerging present.

Mead doesn’t identify the “self” primarily with the “I” or the subject that initiates action in the world. In Mead’s thinking, the seemingly independent subject “I” is in some sense fundamentally inaccessible to our consciousness. Even if the “I” is in fact the initiator of our actions, our awareness of the “I” only takes shape as a “me” as we process what we have just done or experienced. We become aware of ourselves as “I” when we reflect backward and analyze our past actions and experiences. In this sense, we only become aware of the subject “I’ as we view it as an object “me” that just took action and experienced something. As we explain the actions and experiences associated with the emerging “I” we use comparisons with other people (they’s and you’s) as well as our existing collection of “me’s” to construct new “me’s.” Even if the “I” is in some sense the initiator of our actions, it is not the center of the self. Rather the self emerges as a set of stories to explain what the “I” does. We only have access to the “I” as another “me.”

“The essence of the self, as we have said, is cognitive: it let’s in the internalized conversation of gestures which constitutes thinking, or in terms of which thought or reflection proceeds. And hence the origin and foundations of the self, like those of thinking, are social.”

Whether communicating with others or communicating internally, cognition may be seen as communication. Communication occurs when there are two or more parties present.  Mead claims that our internal communication takes shape among the various “me’s” that emerge and in some sense communicate with each other based on what we have learned through our interactions with people and things in the exterior world. As we encounter more people in more situations, we build an internal library of “they’s” and “you’s” who serve as role models that help us to define different “me’s” that emerge to help us deal with different situations.

To Mead, the self emerges in the interplay of a collection of externally-connected “me’s” and an internally-emergent “I.” That means that the idea of a self that exists independently of other people is inconsistent with the process by which the self comes into being.  Without the “me’s” the “I” would have nothing to refer to as a model for what to be and do. The idea of an internally-constructed “I” that exists independently of other people and the outside world doesn’t make any sense.

So what does Mead’s thought imply about how we should understand our existence as individuals?

First, it is clear that Mead’s concept of the self is based on connection with the outside world rather than separation from it. Second, it is clear that Mead sees the self as contextual rather than fixed. Even the “I” which seems to hold a relatively fixed understanding of itself is actually constantly emerging and changing as we encounter new people and situations triggering the “I” to take action generating and updating the collection of “me’s.”  

Mead does not claim that there is no internally-generated aspect of the self or that the internally-generated self has no agency. He positions the “I” as an agent that presents itself by drawing upon a menu of “me’s” built up from previous experience. Somewhat counter-intuitively, he considers our ability to take spontaneous or unpredictable actions (which he attributes to the “I”) to reflect the agency of the individual. The self does seem to include some elements not entirely dependent upon or determined by the outside world, but those elements could never develop into an identity (the core ingredient of an “individual”) in the absence of contact with the outside world and other people.

The self is in fact constantly being constructed and reconstructed as the “I” emerges to take action in the world based on what has been learned. These actions in turn supply a set of data points that are used in the process of constructing and updating various “me’s.” You might imagine the relationship between the “I” and the “me” as an infinity loop: the “I” acts (seemingly) spontaneously in the world in one loop and the “me’s” emerge in the other loop as we process the implications of what the “I” has just done and what we can learn from those actions. Each loop provides the essential ingredients required for the other loop to fulfill it’s function in the construction and maintainence of a stable sense of self. It doesn’t make much sense to talk about the self without making reference to the other things and people that we compare ourselves to as we construct “me’s.” At the same time, though, we can’t make sense of our existence as individuals without maintaining a sense that there is an “I” in there that inititiates our actions.

Mead’s formulation of the self as emerging in the form of an ongoing conversation among the “me’s” and the emergent “I” resonates with some 21st century neuroscience theories of consciousness. From as early as the 1400s, one of the images used to explain individual identity and existence was the homunculus, a sort of a core internal self out of which our external selves emerged. The concept of the homunculus probably emerged as a device to explain our sense of the stable, individual identity around which we organize our story of life’s never-ending flow of consciousness and experience. Belief in something like a homunculus affords us the experience of being the owners of our own identities. The term homunculus is still used in neuroscience, but it is now used to refer to something closer to a neural map of the body than a “core internal self.”

Recently, alternative theories have emerged to explain how our consciousness functions and provides us with a sense of a stable identity over time and across relationships. Some theorize that consciousness emerges in a conversation among various structures of the brain. This theory posits that as we engage with our environment on an ongoing basis through our five senses, we are constantly picking up data that alerts us to what requires our attention at that moment, causing different brain structures to light up or go dark. The hypothesis is that this process of lighting up and going dark (in response to situational changes) corresponds in some way with the flow of our consciousness. Perhaps the shifting focus of our consciousness corresponds with the “I” and the ongoing story we construct to explain the residue (memories) of those shifts corresponds with the “me.”

We can use Mead’s “I/me” model to make sense of how our consciousness of ourselves as selves emerges in the absence of a homunculus or fixed internal self. Mead’s “I/me” model can be used to illustrate how we become conscious of our seemingly stable identities while simultaneously experiencing ongoing evolution and transformation. Mead’s concept of the social self allows for change and growth, but it does not entail chaos or fundamental instability because we are somehow able maintain a story that integrates all of these “me’s” into a single identity.

The “I/me” model can serve as a model around which to organize a process of self-discovery, self-development and self-definition that connects our inner and outer worlds. As we take action in the world, we observe the reactions of other people to those actions, triggering the creation of “me’s” based on those observations. Subsequently, those “me’s” become available to the emergent “I” as guides for our future actions. This infinity loop of inside-out action and outside-in reflection represents the process by which we create a stable sense of who we are as individuals even as we expand the range of options we have to adapt to the changing conditions of our external worlds.

The delusion of the rugged individual is sometimes useful, but it is a delusion nonetheless

What the “I/me” model does not support is forms of radical individualism that posit an individual who is fundamentally separate from and in conflict with other people and the world. Since who we become is largely dependent upon the “you’s” and “they’s” who provide the models on which we build our identities, the very idea of an individual that develops in a way that is essentially independent from other people is logically absurd. As discussed in Individualism is also a relationship, when one chooses to identify oneself as a rugged individual, one is basically choosing to believe a story that devalues the relationships upon which that very identity is based.

That doesn’t mean that there is no value in feeling pride in one’s personal development and accomplishments. There are clearly benefits to choosing to identify oneself as an independent entity. Moreover, in some cases those benefits accrue to not only that individual but others as well. Even in those cases, though, the development of the individual and the things of value that that individual produces take shape in a social context through social relationships. To believe that those relationships don’t exist or that the people on the other end of those relationships don’t have just as much value as ourselves is a worldview that verges on either solipsism or psychopathy.

The popular press and fiction are full of tales of rugged individuals who buck trends and social pressure to create something new and unique. Romanticized individualist heroes like Howard Roark of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead give us something seemingly simple, strong and pure to aspire to, but the real world is not a novel, and the reality of the rugged individual is always more complicated than it seems in romantic novels. In the real world, the rugged individual lives and works within a network of social relationships that enable him or her to bring new things into the world. Likewise, the world in which those contributions create value consists primarily of the other people who build upon and give social context to the rugged individualist’s creations. We may attribute the new thing to the creativity and will of the rugged individualist, but even that individual’s creativity and will first take shape in the context of the relationships that enabled their development. Moreover, the rebel’s ideas only achieve realization through the networks of people who join in the process of creation either as collaborators or consumers.

Belief in the myth of the rugged individual who stands up to the oppressors and changes the world is indeed a great source of motivation, but that doesn’t mean that it provides an accurate picture of how real individuals get things done in the real world. The actual process of becoming a rugged individualist is social and the process of expressing that individualism is fundamentally social. Rugged individualism is a useful delusion, but it is a delusion nonetheless. In cross-cultural psychology, individualism is often contrasted to collectivism, but when you consider how these two patterns of social behavior emerge, it may be more accurate to describe them as diverging ways to cope with the fundamentally connected nature of human existence. Without a collective to join or resist, there could be no individual.

The “I/me” model allows for a more adaptive and socially-embedded understanding of how we become who we are and how we can become who we want to be

It is clear that Mead did not unconditionally accept the traditional (and common sensical) western understanding of the self or individual as something that is fundamentally separate from and set apart from the rest of the world. For Mead, who we become at any given time is largely determined by who we are with now and who we have been with up to this point in our lives, so the individual self is fundamentally a social construct. One can find echos of Mead’s thinking throughout modern social science. Indeed, some suggest that evidence of the socially-constructed self can be found in the deepest depths of the inner world of individual existence. As Eviatar Zerubavel puts it in Social Mindscapes:

“The problem with cognitive science is that, except for work produced by cultural psychologists, cognitive anthropologists, and lately some developmental and social psychologists, it has thus far largely ignored the social dimension of cognition. A truly comprehensive science of the mind must also include a sociology of thinking that, by focusing specifically on the sociomental, would complement the efforts of psychology, linguistics, the neurosciences, and artificial intelligence to provide a complete picture of how we think.”

As Zerubavel points out, giving more attention to the social aspects of inner experience provides us with perspectives that are essential to understanding how we learn about the world, including how we learn how we fit as individuals within that world. Popular discourse notwithstanding, in the American social sciences, the social self seems to be playing an increasingly significant role in our understanding of the nature of individual existence.

Each of us is an “I/me” to ourselves and a “you/they” to others

So far, we have only discussed the significance of the “I/me” model in the context of individual development, but what do we see when we expand our aperture to consider the nature of groups? What you begin to see is that each of us functions in the world as “I/me” to ourselves, but also as “you/them” to others. What that means is that just as noticing how others behave toward each other and toward us provides material that we each use to construct our library of me’s, we each are constantly behaving toward others and ourselves in ways that create material that others use to construct their own libraries of “me’s.”

Viewed from this perspective, it becomes clear that when we observe the behavior of any given individual, we are also observing the residue of all of the things that person has internalized in the process of interacting with others up to that point. If we see someone who is behaving in what appears to be a selfish manner, it is easy to describe that person as “selfish,” but that description may not accurately reflect the “I/me” dynamics driving that person’s behavior. To understand that person’s “selfish” behavior, we may need to get a better understanding of what sort of relationships and interactions the person has had up to that point. The same principle applies to our observations of what might appear to be altruistic or prosocial behavior. We tend to resort to shorthand and describe the person who demonstrates prosocial behavior with adjectives such as “nice” or “kind,” but we probably don’t actually have any idea why that person is exhibiting prosocial behavior. To understand that, we might have to learn more about that person’s relationships as this would give us a clearer picture of the “I/me” dynamics behind that behavior.

Our tendency to label each other as “being” this or that without considering first the contextual factors that might have played and continue to play a role in eliciting that behavior puts us on tenuous footing in our attempts to comprehend, evaluate and influence each other’s behavior.

We can use the “I/me” model as a construct to begin an examination of the “you/they” interactions we and others might have had that have contributed to our own or other people’s behavior. This doesn’t mean that we excuse the individual of responsibility for negative behavior or deprive them of the credit they deserve for positive behavior. It just means that we don’t allow ourselves to conflate the behavior itself with a fixed identity or set of descriptors we ascribe to that individual. Rather we consider what social factors in that person’s life up to that point may have led to the generation of an “I” that exhibits those behaviors. This perspective can enable us to take a step back and consider how we might be contributing to that behavior as “you’s” and “they’s.” It also can open our mind and eyes to options for changing our own behavior (by choosing a different “me”) to make a positive contribution to other people’s library of “me’s.” We can facilitate and support each other in an ongoing process of self-creation.

The multitudes within each of us are inextricably linked to the multitudes outside of us, and this dynamic unfolds in an unlimited number of combinations of patterns: I am because we are. We are because I am. You are because I am. I am because you are. They are because I am. I am because they are. They are because they are. And so on and so forth.

If we go into our interactions with the framing of the “I/me” model, it becomes easier to understand our own role in influencing other people’s development and their role in influencing ours, including even our sense of who we each are as individuals. Through a never-ending series of actions emerging from the “I” and reflections that update our libraries of “me’s” in relation to other people as “you’s” and “they’s,” we are constantly growing ourselves while simultaneously contributing to the growth of others. Through our social relationships, we are inextricably linked to each other’s development as individuals. Armed with the understanding that each self is socially-constructed and evolving in every interaction, we are confronted with the question of how we as individuals can take individual responsibility for creating and maintaining a social context in which it is possible for us and others to create the best possible selves over time.

I can choose to at least aspire to be a “you” or “they” that enables others to construct a better library of “me’s” within themselves. Or I can choose to ignore this dynamic and focus only on doing what I think I need to do to get what I personally want right now, irrespective of the impact my action might have on others right now AND on the me that will be around 5 minutes, 5 years or 50 years from now.

The “I/me” model serves as a construct we can use to liberate ourselves from the solipsistic, isolated nuances that accompany thinking of the individual as something fundamentally set apart from the rest of the world. It’s fascinating to me that this model emerged in the thinking of a philosopher and social scientist steeped deeply in western and American philosophy. As we emerge from a period in which many Americans are beginning to realize the limits of using homo economicus (transactional human) as our de facto model for analyzing human motivation and social behavior, it feels like there might be something to gain by revisiting the thinking of scholars like G. H. Mead, who embed the individual firmly in social context.

Up Next: the emergence of the social self in Japanese thinking

America is, of course, not the only place where philosophers have explored the social nature of selfhood. As mentioned above, in popular and even in academic discourse Japan has frequently been described as a place where the individual is deeply embedded in social context. Some philosophers and social scientists have argued that the Japanese self is fundamentally social rather than individual. A few have even suggested that Japanese selves are either under-developed or fundamentally different from western selves. The collectivist characterization of Japanese society has a long history and deep roots.

George H. Mead was not the only early 20th century philosopher who questioned the traditional western conception of the self as one person set apart. In Japan, a philosopher named Watsuji Tetsuro developed his own version of the social self. In a later article, I’ll introduce a few elements of Watsuji’s thought, giving particular focus to his use of the Japanese word for person, ningen (literally translated as “person between”), as an illustration of how individual existence is fundamentally embedded in a social and ecological context.


For more information on George Mead, see:

Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press. (Direct quotations of Mead used in this article come from this book. Although the book is attributed to Mead, it was actually compiled by his students based on their notes from his lectures.)

Also see:

Steve Odin, 1996. The Social Self in Zen and American Pragmatism.  Albany:  State University of New York Press

Hamaguchi, Eshun, 1997. “A Methodological Basis for Japanese Studies – With Regard to ‘Relatum’ and its Foundation.”  Japan Review  9: 41-63.


For more on the African philosophy of Ubuntu, see:


For more on the neuroscience and philosophy of consciousness, see:


Landesman, Charles. 1967.   “Consciousness.” In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Volume 2. Paul Edwards ed. New York:  The Macmillan Company & The Free Press.

For a more recent exploration of how the self is constructed based on social context, see:

Eviatar Zerubavel, Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology (1997), (excerpt below)

For a recent examination of American individualism from the perspective of cross-cultural psychologists, see:

Freakonomics Radio, episode 469, “The U.S. Is Just Different — So Let’s Stop Pretending We’re Not (Ep. 469)” and episode 470, “The Pros and Cons of America’s (Extreme) Individualism (Ep. 470)” @ freakonomics.com.

For a feature on one of the great promoters of selfish individual as a virtue, see this Throughline feature on Ayn Rand:


For an approach to cross-cultural relationships that integrates both general patterns and individual agency, see:

Indrei Ratio, “Thinking Internationally: A Comparison of How International Executives Learn“, International Studies of Management & Organization., Vol. XIII, N0o. 1-2, pp. 139-150, M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1983

For cross-cultural research that uses the presentation of more detailed stories of real people’s lives to draw comparisons and contrasts between American and Japanese culture, see:

Gordon Mathews, What Makes Life Worth Living, (1996) Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press

For more on relationships in Japanese culture, see:

Doi, Takeo, 1981.   The anatomy of dependence. Tokyo:  Kodansha International.

Kondo, Dorinne, 1990.   Crafting selves: Power, gender and discourses of identity in a Japanese workplace. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

Lebra, Takie, 1992    “The Self in Japanese Culture.” In Japanese Sense of Self. Nancy Rosenberger R. ed. Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.1984.  Review of Kanjin-shugi no shakai: Nihon in Journal of Japanese Studies 10 (2): 462-468.

Find a full presentation of the Walt Whitman poem “Song of myself” at the link below:


For more on the homunculus, see:


For an exploration of the relationship of the mind with the body, see:

Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio

This article builds on a paper I wrote as part of a graduate course in Anthropology of Japan taught by Takie Lebra at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1998. I’m happy to share the paper with those who are curious about the topic:

Dana Cogan, The Social Self: How is it constructed and what does it mean?, 1998

© Dana Cogan, 2021, all rights reserved.

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