Erving Goffman and the Performed Self

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Goffman believed that we use “impression management” to present ourselves to others as we hope to be perceived. Do you have a fixed character? Or do you play many roles depending on the situation?

Erving Goffman argued that we display a series of masks to others, enacting roles, controlling and staging how we appear and constantly trying to set ourselves in the best light. If this is true do we have a true self or are we endlessly performing?

We are not separate from our roles. We are our performance; we are what we do. (EZM)

Sociologist Erving Goffman developed the concept of dramaturgy, the idea that life is like a never-ending play in which people are actors. … He believed that whatever we do, we are playing out some role on the stage of life. Goffman distinguished between front stages and back stages.

When people engage in back stage behavior, they are free of the expectations and norms that dictate front stage behavior. Given this, people are often more relaxed and comfortable when back stage; they let their guard down and behave in ways that reflect their uninhibited or “true” selves.

What are the 5 types of social interaction? Among the most common forms of social interaction are exchange, competition, conflict, cooperation, and accommodation. These five types of interaction take place in societies throughout the world.

Erving Goffman – Interaction Ritual

In this animated video, we use the concepts “line”, “face”, and “expressive order” to illustrate how Erving Goffman explains social interaction in everyday life. This was made for the course “Major Works in Contemporary Social Theory” at Wageningen UR by MSc students of International Development Studies: Edel Heuven, Stijn Vercammen, Caspar Swinkels and Wouter Asveld. We’d like to thank our supervisors Gert Spaargaren and Peter Oosterveer for their kind support and inspiring advice. Also many thanks to Stan Verberkt for providing the microphone.

Major Contributions

Goffman is credited for making significant contributions to the field of sociology. He is considered a pioneer of micro-sociology, or the close examination of the social interactions that compose everyday life.

Through this type of work, Goffman presented evidence and theory for the social construction of the self as it is presented to and managed for others, created the concept of framing and the perspective of frame analysis, and set the foundation for the study of impression management.

Through his study of social interaction, Goffman made a lasting mark on how sociologists understand and study stigma and how it affects the lives of people who experience it.

His studies also laid the groundwork for the study of strategic interaction within game theory and laid the foundation for the method and subfield of conversation analysis.

Based on his study of mental institutions, Goffman created the concept and framework for studying total institutions and the process of resocialization that takes place within them.

Erving Goffman, (born June 11, 1922, Manville, Alta., Can.—died Nov. 19, 1982, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.), Canadian-American sociologist noted for his studies of face-to-face communication and related rituals of social interaction. His The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) laid out the dramaturgical perspective he used in subsequent studies, such as Asylums (1961) and Stigma (1964). In Frame Analysis (1979) and Forms of Talk (1981), he focused on the ways people “frame” or define social reality in the communicative process.

Interactionism, in Cartesian philosophy and the philosophy of mind, those dualistic theories that hold that mind and body, though separate and distinct substances, causally interact. Interactionists assert that a mental event, as when John Doe wills to kick a brick wall, can be the cause of a physical action, his leg and foot moving into the wall. Conversely, the physical event of his foot hitting the wall can be the cause of the mental event of his feeling a sharp pain.

In the 17th century René Descartes gave interactionism its classical formulation. He could give no satisfactory account of how the interaction takes place, however, aside from the speculation that it occurs in the pineal gland deep within the brain. This problem led directly to the occasionalism of Nicolas Malebranche, a 17th–18th-century French Cartesian who held that God moves the foot on the occasion of the willing, and to various other accounts of the mind-body relation. These include the theory of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a 17th–18th-century German philosopher-mathematician, of a harmony between the mind and body preestablished by God at creation, and the rejection of dualism by the 17th-century Dutch Jewish rationalist Benedict de Spinoza in favour of a monistic theory of mind and body as attributes of one underlying substance.

Two difficulties confront the interactionist: (1) As different substances, mind and body are so radically different in quality that it is difficult to imagine how two such alien things could influence one another. (2) Physical science, when interpreted mechanistically, would seem to present a structure totally impervious to intrusions from a nonphysical realm, an appearance that would seem to be as true of the brain as of any other material aggregateSee also mind-body dualism.

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