Goffman:  The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

With this piece, we move squarely to the individual level of social theory. Goffman dissects the meaning and practice of direct interaction, using "dramaturgical" tools - that is, he takes seriously the claim that "All the world is a stage, and we but merely players" (to roughly quote the Bard).

For some good introductions/overviews of his work, see here and here.

Here E.G. lays out the basic elements of the argument.  In micro-interactions, every person sends two signals: those they "give" and those they "give off"

"The expressiveness of the individual appears to involve two radically different kinds of sign activity: the expression that he gives, and the expression that he gives off" (p.2)
That which we give is usually the things we say: our verbal signs.  That which we "give off" are usually the non-verbal cues, that help to situate and verify the things we say.  This book is largely about understanding how these different types of expressiveness are managed, and the types of interaction elements that are important to managing and understanding these types of expressiveness.

Of key importance, then, is that these two types of expression are not always the same. Instead, an individual's activity has a "promissory character"  - we take for granted that a person is honest in his/her expression, but we are checking none-the-less for congruence between the two types of cues.

Part of what makes life so interesting (and profitable for the con man) is that we have to 'infer' character/intention from this kind of behavior.  An inference that can never be certain (if you read Lumann, we find that this inference is not only difficult, but (a) impossible to get right and (b) thus made through each sub-groups set of unique understanding tools. This makes for a very interesting world).

Life becomes even more interesting when we admit that people try to control the two types of cues, to play a role and give an impression. (The example of the man on the beach is key here). Note that both the audience and the player do this:

"When we allow that the individual projects a definition of the situation when he appears before others, we must also see that the others, however passive their role may seem to be, will themselves effectively projects a definition of the situation by virtue of their response to the individual and by virtue of the lines of action they initiate to him" (p.9)

The expression of a part always carries w. it a moral claim, a claim to status conferred by the role taken.

"we must not overlook the crucial fact that any projected definition of the situation also has a distinctive moral character.... Society is organized on the principle that any individual who possesses certain social characteristics has a moral right to expect that others will value and treat him in an appropriate way.  Connected with this principle is a second, namely that an individual who implicitly or explicitly signifies that he has a certain social characteristic ought in fact to be what he claims to be." (p.13)
When people turn out otherwise (really or just by making mistakes in presentation), a good deal social work is needed to fix the stage.

Note that E.G. is not interested in the content of relations per se, but the general forms of presentation.

"I shall be concerned only with the participants dramaturgical problems of presenting the activity before others.  The issues dealt with by stagecraft and stage management are sometimes trivial but they are quite general; they seem to occur everywhere in social life, providing a clear-cut dimension for formal sociological analysis." (p.15)
He ends the intro w. some definitions that he will use throughout:
Interaction:  "may be roughly defined as the reciprocal influence of individuals upon on another's actions when in one another's immediate physical presence."

An Interaction: all the interaction which occurs throughout any one occasion when a given set of individual re in one another's continuous presence, the same as an encounter.

Performance:  all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants.

Part or Routine: a pre established pattern of action which is unfolded during a performance and which may be presented or played through on other occasions

Belief in the part one is playing
There are two extremes in the 'reality' of a given performance: "An individual my be taken in by his own act or be cynical about it" (p.19)  But these are more than just a continuum. People move back and forth from these two positions all the time.  However, "While we can expect to find natural movement back and forth between cynicism and sincerity, still we must not rule out the kinds of transitional point that can be sustained on the strength of a little self illusion." That is, we may have a mixture of both.  He uses the example of Shamanism, where medicine men use a little slight-of-hand to enhance the performance, but none-the-less consider it real.

The front is likely the most recognized part of this work.

The front is:

"That part of individual's performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance.  Front, then, is the expressive equipment of a standard kind intentionally or unwittingly employed by the individual during his performance." (p.22).
These are the standard elements of social performance, used again and again by actors in their interactions with others.

There are multiple parts to a front:

    Setting is something that, largely, stays put. There are other elements that move with us, such as race, sex, age, etc. These can be broken down into two types:


    Manner Appearance is what we look like, manner is how we act.  Both send signals to others.

The key to fronts is that they are generalizable and transferable (see Sewell's discussion of Structure) we can use the same front multiple times.

"For the observer this is a wonderful, though sometimes disastrous, convenience. Instead of having to maintain a different pattern of expectation and response treatment for each slightly different performer and performance, he can place the situation in a broad category around which it is easy for him to mobilize his past experience and stereo-typical thinking."
    Since fronts are selected and not created, they can often not fit. His example includes military ranks that don't correspond to duties.  In general, there is a question about creative capacity if we rely on Setting, Appearance and Manner, and Fronts are largely established, can we do anything new?  what would this look like?

Dramatic Realization
 People have to put their performances into action, which can be tricky. Especially if there is a less-than-perfect fit between a stock performance and a given situation. Some types fit easily (policemen, prizefighters, etc.), allowing "so much dramatic self-expression that exemplary practitioners become famous and given a special place in the commercially organized fantasies of the nation." (p.31)  In many cases, however, it is difficult to make the importance/position of the role known. He uses the example of a medical nurse as opposed to a surgical nurse.  A surgical nurse's activities are clear, whereas a medical nurse's are not.

Performers tend to offer their audience impressions that are idealized in several different ways:

Note that there are many factors that lead to a discrepancy between reality and appearance:
  1. the performer by be engaged in a profitable activity that is incompatible with the view of his activity which he hopes observers will obtain.  Place of work and activity are a shell for concealing the unethical behavior
  2. Errors and mistakes are often corrected before the performance takes place.  Give the impression of infallibility. I.e. "doctors bury their mistakes."
  3. Tend to show only the end product, not the long hard work that went in to producing it.
  4. "we find that there are many performances which could not have been given had not tasks been done which were physically unclean, semi illegal, cruel and degrading in other ways."
  5. If the activity is to embody several ideal standard, it is likely then that some of these standards will be sustained in public by the private scarifies of some of the others.  He points out that we shouldn't be too cynical about this.  If the important ends of an organization are to be met, it is sometimes necessary to use dirty means.
  6. Performers often foster the impression that they have ideal motives for acquiring the role which they are performing, but the practice of getting there and doing the job often belie this ideal (i.e. medical students have no time to care for patients, or that they never have to "suffer through a learning period" (p.47)
  7. Finally, a performer often engenders in his audience the belief that hi is related to them in a more ideal way than may be the case:
Maintenance of Expressive Control
    Performers and audiences rely on cues for understanding meaning and intention in performance.  The flip side of this is that unintended cues can take on expressive meaning that  is similarly unintended (or, which has the same outcome but radically different implications for global interaction, may simply misunderstand intentional cues. Again, see Lumann).
"By virtue of [the ability to read cues], the audience my misunderstand the meaning that a cue was designed to convey, or may read an embarrassing meaning into gestures or events that were accidental... In response to these communication contingencies, performers commonly attempt to exert a kind of synecdochic responsibility, making sure that as many as possible of the minor events in the performance, however instrumentally inconsequential theses events may be, will occur in such a way as to convey either no impression or an impression that is compatible and consistent with the overall definition of the situation that is being fostered." (p.51)
This is particularly true when the audience is skeptical: think of how quickly a job-talk audience will pounce on minor flaws in an argument.

He provides 3 rough groupings of these events:

  1. a performer may accidentally convey incapacity , impropriety, or disrespect by momentarily loosing muscular control of himself. I.e. belch, yawn, etc.
  2. May act in a way that suggests he is too much or too little engaged in the interaction.  E.G. says things like stutter, forget a line, appear nervous or self-conscious. You might also add less accidental things, such as answering email while you have someone in your office, for example, or not dealing with a child's pain because you need to finish a story w. a friend.
  3. May suffer from 'inadequate dramaturgical directly"  The setting not put into order, may be ready for the wrong performance, uncomfortable lulls, etc.
"The expressive coherence that is required in performances points out a crucial discrepancy between our all-too-human selves and our socialized selves.  As human beings we are presumably creatures of variable impulse with moods and energies that change from one moment to the next. As characters put on for an audience, however, we must not be subjects to ups or downs.  A certain bureaucratization of the spirit is expected so that we can be relied upon to give a perfectly homogenous performance at every appointed time" (p.56)
(this is something you will experience directly teaching!)
The same sign-accepting faculty that allows for mistakes to take on meaning allows an audience to be duped, "for there are few signs that cannot be used to attest to the presence of something that is not really there." (p.58)  This is why we give such emphasis to things that, seemingly, are harder to manipulate. "if we grudgingly allow certain symbols of status to establish a performer's right to a given treatment, we are always ready to pounce on chinks in his symbolic armor in order to discredit his pretensions." (p.58-59)

When we discover a fraud, we are really discovering someone who does not have the right to play the part they play.  But this is a complicated thing to do, since there are many dimensions upon which 'fraud' may be played, and it is not always 'bad ' - think of the undercover cop, for example. Moreover, the standards are not always clear (it is easy to find a fraudulent police man, but what counts as a true 'friend'?).

An open or bald-faced lie is one where the discrepancy between between truth and statement is unquestionable.  While such lies often lead to loss of face, there are many situations where it is possible to  "for the performer to create  intentionally almost any kind of false impression without putting himself in the indefensible position of having told a clear-cut lie. Communication techniques such as innuendo, strategic ambiguity and crucial omissions allow the misinformer to profit from lies without, technically, telling any." (p.62)

Moreover, there are few legitimate roles that do not have some level of "concealed practices which are incompatible with foster impressions" (p.64)  I.e. you don't tell your spouse everything, such as your opinion about their relatives.

However, "we must note that a false impression maintained by an individual in any one of his routines may be a threat to the whole relationship or role of which the routines is only one part, for a discreditable disclosure in one area of an individual's activity will through doubt on the many areas of activity in which he may have nothing to conceal." (p.65)  THink only of Clinton...

Misrepresentation is an almost necessary part of performances.

"All of these general characteristics of performances can be seen as interaction constraints which play upon the individual and transform his activities into performances.  Instead of merely doing his task and given vent to his feelings, he will express the doing of his task and acceptably convey his feelings.  In general, then, the representation of an activity will vary in some degree from the activity itself, and therefore inevitably misrepresent it.  And since the individual will be required to rely on signs in order to construct a representation of his activity, the image he constructs, however faithful to the facts, will be subject to all the disruptions that impressions are subject to." (p.65)
For sociology, the key is not, then, truth or falsity, but the extent to which a performance can be discredited.
"Whether an honest performer wishes to convey the truth or whether a dishonest performer wishes to convey a falsehood, both must take care to enliven their performances with appropriate expressions, exclude from their performances expressions that might deiscredit he impression being fostered, and take care lest the audience impute unintended meanings." (p.67)
It is often the case that to successfully pull off a performance, you need to create a mystery between performer and audience - a distance that keeps them at bay and in awe.  This creates a level of elbowroom for people to move. The example he gives is that 'familiarity breeds contempt"  We need to stay distance to be respected, as the minor flaws that can lead to discredit are more evident close-up.  HOwever, there is a risk in this, as the flip side of 'awe' is 'shame';
"We have then, a basic social coin. With awe on one side and shame on the other.  The audience senses secret mysteries and powers behind the performance, and the performer senses that his chief secrets are petty ones. As countless folk tales and initiation rites show, often the real secret behind the mystery is that there really is no mysteries; the real problem is to prevent the audience from learning this too." (p.70)
Reality and Contrivance
That there are falsities (french cooks who are russian spies, wives who are mistresses, etc.), means that all performances may be contrivances.  The task of performance / audience relation is to move our belief to sincerity over falsehood.

The implication here is that an honest, sincere, serious performance is less firmly connected with the solid world than one might first assume: it is still a performance, and the distance between "contrivance" and "reality" may be far less than we want to admit.

Here E.G. focuses on how groups of people, "Teams" manage impressions through co-operation. This is based on the consensus of the group, which often involves a discrepancy between what we show others and the groups internal differences.

A team is

"a set of individuals whose intimate co-operation is required if a given projected definition of the situation is to be maintained.  A team is a groups, but it is a grouping not in relation to a social structure or social organization but rather in relation to an interaction or series of interactions in which the relevant definition of the situation is maintained." (p.104)
A team is something of a secret society, in that members are 'in the know' and are conspirators in putting on the show for the audience.

In most teams, people develop roles  - parts they play in the team's presentation.

Note that many times, the front people put on are as much (if not more) for the organization/product they are working for than for themselves personally: i.e. a receptionist

Under some circumstances, the team may perform for an audience that isn't there.  See the discussion around p. 82
Two basic components for team performance:

(From Jarvis:)
The scope for dissent is minimized as individuals must maintain their front/face in line with expectations of team performance. The team also may project a "proper front" for each audience. This guides the team, actors and audience as they maintain consistent interactions and relationships in "appropriate" settings. Goffman differentiates between Signifiers unifying the team
 Unifiers may in reality thin and partial but projected as strong. When " before an audience" actors individual actors feel pressure to stick to the required team front. There may be private (behind the scenes) dissent about values, individual performances and threats to team goals. The individual's "team" front masks their position as deviant behavior before an audience would undermine overall team performance and credibility.
Team members play different roles, and often a director has to:
  1. be able to bring back into line any member of the team whose performance becomes unsuitable, usually by soothing and sanctioning
  2. may have to allocate the parts in the play to come
(these he terms dramatic and directive dominance)

    Team members also differ w. respect to the amount of time they spend on mere activity and mere drama -- the doing of the activity and the performance of the activity.  At the extreme, we have people w. purely ceremonial roles.

Regions and Region Behavior

For Goffman, the "region" or setting for the team performance and audience can differentiate individual behavior and actions. In a stage drama,
          regions can be:

Discrepant Roles
A basic problem for many performances is to ensure that the audience does not get information that would discredit the performance the team is trying to make.  The team must be able to keep its secrets and have its secrets kept.

There are different types of secrets:

  1. "Dark" secrets: facts about a team which it knows and conceals and which are incompatible with the image of self that the team tries to present to the audience
  2. "Strategic secrets": intentions and capacities of the team which it conceals from its audience to prevent them from adapting effectively to the state-of-affairs the team is trying to create
  3. "Inside secrets": possession marks a member as a member of the group.  they give an objective content to the subjective felt distance with others.  Note that strategic and dark secrets serve well as inside secrets.  This is part of the reason that to gain control of someone, you bind them w. a secret.
  4. The knowledge one has of other's secrets provides two sub-types:
This chapter is concerned with the kinds of persons who learn about the secrets of a team and with the bases and the threats of their privileged position.

Note that there are 3 basic roles in Goffman's scheme, each w. different types of information

  1. Performers: are away of the impression they foster and posses destructive information about the show
  2. Audience: know what they have been allowed to know, plus what they can gleen from close observation. They know the definition of the situation but do not have destructive information about it.
  3. Outsiders: know neither the secrets of the performance nor ht appearance of reality fostered by it.
In general, these roles/positions are never clear cut.  The most interesting conflicts include:
  1. The informer:  someone who pretends to the performers to be a member of their team, is allowed backstage, but then sells out to the audience.  Note these can be spy or traitors, depending on how they start.
  2. The "Shill":  Someone who acts as though he were and ordinary member of the audience but is in fact in league w. the performers
  3. "Protector" (my word): someone who is an impostor in the audience, but for the benefit of the audience, not the performers. He plays the role of checking up on the performers.  These are sometimes self-appointed ("wise-guys") who may not have any knowledge of the backstage.
  4. The go-between or mediator: He learns the secrets of each side and the impression that he will keep them, that he is on their side. Where he really stands depends on the type
  5. Finally, a "non-person": those who play this role are present during the interaction but in some respects do not take the role either of performer or of audience, nor do they pretend to be what they are not.

In addition, there are those who are "not present during a performance but who have unexpected information about it." (p.153)

  1. Service Specialist: people who know something about the setting: plumbers, for example, bankers w. tax knowledge
  2. Confidant: persons to whome the performer confesses his sins, freely detailing the sense in which the impression given during a performance was merely an impression.
  3. Colleagues: persons who present the same routine to the same kind of audience but who don not participate together, as teammates do.

Communication Out of Character
Sometimes performers slip: they say things they shouldn't, what we often mark by "My God!" and such statements, admitting that we have stepped "out of character" (note the example of the general in the jeep).  While open mistakes do occur, they are rare. Instead, there are "undercurrents" that, if made explicit, would contradict the overall exposition.

"When a social establishment is studied, these discrepant sentiments are almost always found. The demonstrate that while a performer may act as if his response in a  situation were immediate, unthinking and spontaneous, and while he himself may think this to be the case, still it will always be possible for situation to arise win which he will convey to one or two persons present the understanding that he show he is maintaining g is only and merely a show." (p.,169)
There are many types of these communications. E.G. gives us detailed treatment of 4:

1. Treatment of the Absent
    a) Derogatory treatment of the audience, when not performing.  Speaking bad about the audience when you go back-stage, nicknames, etc.

    Note that this type of thing is looked down on by management, as it invariable seeps into the face-to-face contact of performance.  See work on Total Quality Management, for example.

2. Staging Talk
    Discussing how to stage the performance. Also discussions of what the other team members are doing (gossip).  The "talk about the talk"

3. Team Collusion
    Whispers with other team members give away the game: i.e. that it is a game.  Also secret team signals, and "staging cues."  The most often seen type if between a performer and himself: school kids crossing their fingers when they tell a lie.

4. Realigning Actions

    Movements around, or over, or away from the line between teams.  Such as unofficial grumbling, guarded disclosure, and double-talk.

In general,

"whatever it is that generates the human want for social contact and for companionship, the effect seems to take two forms: a need for an audience before which to try out one's vaunted selves, and a need for teammates with whom to enter into collusive intimacies and backstage relaxation." (p.206)
The Arts of Impression Management
We need skills to overcome broaches of sincerity
Defensive Attributes and Practices
  1. Dramaturgical Loyalty: We need to be  members of the same team
  2. Dramaturgical Discipline:  Must "offer a show of intellectual nad emotional involvement in the activity he is presenting, but must keep himself from actually being carried away."
  3. Dramaturgical Circumspection: members need a little foresight, preparing in advance for things that can go wrong.
Protective Practices
Tact Regarding Tact

The Framework
The Analytic Context
 We have
Comparisons and Study
The Role of Expression in Conveying Impressions of the Self
Staging and the Self