(born Aug. 17, 1864, Ann Arbor, Mich., U.S.—died May 8, 1929, Ann Arbor) U.S. sociologist. The son of an eminent Michigan jurist, Cooley taught sociology at the University of Michigan from 1894. He believed that the mind is social, that society is a mental construct, and that the moral unity of society derives from face-to-face relationships in primary groups such as the family and neighbourhood. In Human Nature and the Social Order (1902), he referred to this form of social reference as “the looking glass self.” Cooley's other works include Social Organization (1909) and Social Process (1918).
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Charles Cooley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in September 7, 1864. He graduated from University of Michigan in 1887, which was followed by a year's training in mechanical engineering at the same school. In 1888 he returned to the study for a Master's degree in political economy, with a minor in sociology. He began teaching in the University in the fall of 1892. Cooley received a PhD in 1894 and began teaching sociology in the academic year 1894-95. The title of his doctoral thesis was The Theory of Transportation in economics. The concept of the "looking glass self" is undoubtedly his most famous, and is known and accepted by most psychologists and sociologists today. It expanded William James's idea of self to include the capacity of reflection on its own behavior. Other people's views build, change and maintain our self-image; thus, there is an interaction between how we see ourselves and how others see us. According to Cooley, in his work "Human Nature and the Social Order", his "looking-glass self" involved three steps:
1) To begin, we picture our appearance of ourselves, traits and personalities.
2) We then use the reactions of others to interpret how others visualize us.
Cooley's theories were manifested in response to a three-fold necessity that had developed within the realm of society. The first of which was the necessity to create an understanding of societal phenomena that highlighted the subjective mental processes of individuals yet realized that these subjective processes were effects and causes of society's processes. The second necessity examined the development of a social dynamic conception that portrayed states of chaos as natural occurrences which could provide opportunities for "adaptive innovation." Finally, a need to manifest publics that were capable of exerting some form of "informed moral control" over current problems and future directions.
In regards to these, aforementioned, dilemmas Cooley responded by stating "society and individual denote not separable phenomena but different aspects of the same thing, for a separate individual is an abstraction unknown to experience, and so likewise is society when regarded as something apart from individuals." From this, he resolved to create a "Mental-Social" Complex of which he would term the "Looking-glass self."
The Looking-glass self is created through the imagination of how one's self might be understood by another individual. This would later be termed "Empathic Introspection." This theory applied not only to the individual but to the macro-level economic issues of society and to those macro-sociological conditions which are created over time.
To the economy, Cooley presented a divergent view from the norm, stating that "...even economic institutions could [not] be understood solely as a result of impersonal market forces." With regard to the sociological perspective and its relevancy toward traditions he states that the dissolution of traditions may be positive, thus creating “the sort of virtues, as well as of vices, that we find on the frontier: plain dealing, love of character and force, kindness, hope, hospitality and courage.” He believed that Sociology continues to contribute to the "growing efficiency of the intellectual processes that would enlighten the larger public will." (Levine, 1996)
Cooley's marriage in 1890 to Elsie Jones, the daughter of a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, enabled him to concentrate fully on scholarly work and the contemplative life he prized above all. A highly culti- vated woman, Mrs. Cooley differed from her husband in that she was outgoing, energetic, and hence capable of ordering their common lives in such a manner that mundane cares were not to weigh very heavily on her husband. The couple had three children, a boy and two girls, and lived quietly; and fairly withdrawn in a house quite close to the campus. The children served Cooley as a kind of domestic laboratory for his study of the genesis and growth of the self. Hence, even when he was not engaged in the observation of his own self but wished to observe others, he did not need to leave the domestic circle.