Below is a guest post from Dr. Timothy Gongaware, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.


In many of my classes, I have students explore George Herbert Mead’s discussions regarding the genesis of the self. Although the phases of play and game seem to be very well spelled out, I like to see just how well students can actually identify them and use that as a chance to explore what they may look like in the actual activities of others. In the classroom, I solicit example stories of children’s behaviors and activities, and we have fun exploring them and their variations in some depth. For the social psychology course I teach online, however, I give the following assignment:

After completing the assigned reading, take some time to consider what might be good examples of the phases in the genesis of the self. They are, in fact, all around us all of the time. After considering the phases for a while, search the internet (e.g., YouTube) to find video examples of both play and game.

By Tuesday evening, you should complete the following on the “Activity 2.1” discussion board: post a link to the examples; provide a proper definition of the concept of play and game; and, provide an explanation for how the video appropriately represents the related concept (extra credit will be given for a clear and well defined example of “pure play”). Then, by Wednesday evening, come back to read what others have posted and respond to, comment on and explore at least two of the examples.

Since it is not as well spelled out in Mead’s discussions, students typically find it more difficult to grasp the idea of “pure play” which precedes and helps to better develop the play and game of older individuals. This difficulty is often confounded by a common misunderstanding I’ve discovered among students who have previously been taught or read about GH Mead’s ideas. Specifically, students have indicated an understanding that “imitation” is the first thing babies do on the road to self genesis So, in addition to exploring Mead’s lengthy assertion that a baby/child cannot imitate until after they have begun to develop a sense of self (until after they develop at least a rudimentary ability to play), I encourage students to give concerted attention to the engagement of “pure play” by offering extra credit for posting clear and/or fun examples.

The clip below was recently submitted by a student as an example of pure play for the assignment and has become one of my favorites. The clip condenses a 4 hour video of a baby at play down into 2 minutes.


In addition to being just darned fun, the clip is an excellent example of what Mead referred to in various places as pure play: as those attitudes and activities which are not oriented to others, are not part of the construction of meaning with others, but which emerge from an unsocialized ‘I’, and, as Deegan emphasizes, emerge from a stimulus that calls out a detached act. The time lapsed video very clearly shows how a continuous and random shifting of focus expresses itself as the baby moves from stimuli to stimuli. From here the conversation can move to what a parent would do if they were in the room: helping the child learn to connect response and stimuli by acting as though the child were making meaningful choices and channeling/directing the child’s attention. In addition to the concept of pure play, it would seem very appropriate as an example of a human who is not yet able to treat themselves as an object and is acting only as a subject in the environment.