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Presentation of Self

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The most significant work on the self in symbolic interactionism is Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. This book was written by distinguished Berkley professor Erving Goffman, who has long been considered as a "cult" figure in sociological theory. Goffman's idea of the self is extremely indebted to Mead's thoughts, in particular his discussion of the strain between the "I," the spontaneous self, and the "me," social constraints within the self. This apprehension is reflected in Goffman's work on what he called the "crucial discrepancy between our all- too- human selves and our socialized selves" (1959:56). The tension results from the variation between what people expect us to do and what we may want to do on impulse. We are confronted with the requirement to do what is expected or us; furthermore, we are not supposed to falter. As Goffman put it, "We must not be subject to ups and downs" (1959:56). In order to uphold a stable self image, people perform for their social audiences. As a consequence of this interest, Goffman focused on dramaturgy, or a view of social life as a series of dramatic performances similar to those performed on the stage.

Goffman's sense of the self was fashioned by his dramaturgical approach. To him, the self is

not an organic thing that has a specific location...In analyzing the self then we are drawn from its possessor, from the person who will profit or lose most by it, for he and his body merely provide the peg on which something of collaborative manufacture will be hung for a time...The means of producing and maintaining selves do not reside inside the peg. (Goffman, 1959:252-253)

Goffman professed the self not as a possession of the actor but rather as the product of the dramatic interaction between actor and audience. The self "is a dramatic effect arising... from a scene that is presented" (Goffman, 1959:253). According to Misztal, "Because the self is a product of dramatic interaction, it is vulnerable to disruption during the performance. Goffman's dramaturgy is concerned with the processes by which such disturbances are prohibited or dealt with. The end result is that in normal circumstances a solid self is accorded to performers, and it "appears" to originate from the performer. Goffman understood that when individuals interrelate, they want to present a specific sense of self that will be accepted by others. Nevertheless, even as they present that self, actors are conscious that members of the audience can disturb their performance. For that reason actors are familiar to the need to be in charge of the audience, especially those rudiments of that that might be troublesome. The actors anticipate that the sense of self that they present to the audience will be sturdy enough for the audience to identify the actors as the actors want them to. The actors also hope that this will create grounds for the audience to act of their own free will as the actors want them to. Goffman characterized this middle interest as "impression management." It involves techniques actors use to sustain certain impressions in the countenance of problems they are probable to come across and methods they use to manage these problems.

Following this theatrical likeness, Goffman spoke of a front stage. The front is that part of the performance that usually functions in rather permanent and general ways to characterize the situation for those who observe the performance. Within the front stage, Goffman additionally differentiated between the setting and the personal front. The setting refers to the physical scene that customarily must be there if the actors are to perform. Without its presence, the actors cannot typically perform. The personal front consists of those items of easy-to-read equipment that the audience connects with the performers and expects them to bring into the setting.

The personal front was then divided by Goffman into appearance and manner. Appearance included those items that tell us the performer's social status. Manner tells the audience what kind of role the performer expects to play in the situation. As a general rule, we expect manner and appearance to be consistent. Although Goffman moved toward the front and other aspects of his system as a symbolic interactionist, he did confer their structural character. He argued that fronts are apt to become institutionalized, and so, collective representations" crop up about what is to go on in a certain front. More than often, when actors take on conventional roles, they find exacting fronts already established for such performances. The end result, Goffman argued, is that fronts have a propensity to be selected, not created. This idea puts across a much more structural image than we would obtain from most symbolic interactionists.

Regardless of having such a structural view, Goffman's most appealing insights lie in the field of interaction. He argued that because people in general try to put forth an idealized picture of themselves in their front stage performances, inexorably they feel that they must hide things in their performances. First, actors may to cover up clandestine pleasures (consuming alcohol) engaged in prior to the performance or in past lives (drug addiction) that are mismatched with their performance. Second, actors may want to mask mistakes that have been made in the preparation of the performance in addition to steps that have been taken to correct these errors. Third, actors may find it essential to show only end products and to obscure the process involved in producing them. Fourth, it may be necessary for actors to conceal from the audience that "dirty work" was a part of the creation of the end products. Fifth, in giving a specified performance, actors may have to let others principles slide by. Finally, actors almost certainly find it necessary to hide any insults, humiliations, or deals made so that the performance could continue on. On the whole, actors have a vested interest in hiding all such facts from their audience.

Another facet of dramaturgy in the front stage is that actors often try to put across the impression that they are closer to the audience than they actually are. Even if it becomes discovered, Goffman argued, the audiences themselves may try to deal with the falsity so as not to ruin their idealized image of the actor. This makes known the interactional characters of performances. Actors try to make sure that all the parts of any performance merge together. In some cases, a single jarring aspect can upset the performance. Another modus operandi employed by performers is mystification. Actors frequently tend to mystify their performances by limiting the content between



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