Part Four: Audiences & Identity

46 Looking-Glass Self


The looking-glass-self draws more deeply on psychological rather than sociological models of the self in society, but like impressions management, it approaches the dynamic self through that self’s place in a social context, surrounded by other selves, other identities.

Drawing on psychological concepts of the self, the looking-glass-model sees the self as constantly reworking itself through a three-step process of imagining how we appear to others, and how others judge that appearance, and then developing the self in light of that (hypothetical) judgement.  It is here you can see the strong ties between looking-glass-self and impressions management.  The point of difference (and why this is a psychological rather than a sociological concept), is that this process is entirely in the mind of the individual.  Whereas impressions management sees the self modifying itself as based on actual feedback from others (comments, criticisms, rebuffs), the looking-glass-self develops itself entirely on what it thinks the other perceives – it all takes place in the mind of the self.  Mead, a leading scholar in symbolic interactionism, refers to this as “taking the role of the other,” something that can begin as the young child passes the mirror stage and understands itself as being an entity or individual separate from other individuals.  Charles Cooley, who coined the term ‘looking-glass-self’, spoke of “the thing that moves to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind”  (Cooley, 1964, emphasis added).

The looking-glass-self is particularly interesting to think about in terms of mediated interactions, whether that be a letter, a talk-show, or a Reddit thread.  Because mediated communication involves distance, the individual users become more or less isolated depending on the form of mediation, and the social relationship of interaction becomes stripped of some or many of the subconscious and non-verbal cues with which we often rely upon to moderate our reactions.  Particularly in two-way, mediated exchanges, such as phone, text or chat, users often have to imagine the ‘reflection’ they are having on another’s mind.

If we focus specifically on forms of two-way communication that place communication as part of social networks and communal ties, we can probably return to look at other forms of symbolic interactionism that focus more on the link between individuals as a site of identity meaning-making.  Perhaps one of the most-relevant (and arguably most used) forms of symbolic interactionism are the dramaturgical perpectives of performance.


  1. Given the prevalence of phone, text, chat and numerous other technological forms of communication do you think such controlled forms of communicating are becoming normalised?
  2. If so, is it possible that humanity is moving towards a preference for such controlled communication methods, and that we are becoming our own avatar for our imaginary audience. Try arguing this both ways.


Mead, G.H. Mind, Self and Society From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Vol. 1. University of Chicago Press 1934, rev 1967.



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