The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
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|Subject||Social Anthropology, Sociology, social psychology|
|Awards||American Sociological Association’s MacIver award (1961)|
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is a 1956 sociology book by Erving Goffman, in which Goffman uses the imagery of the theatre in order to portray the importance of human social interaction. Originally published in Scotland in 1956 and in the United States in 1959, it is Goffman’s first and most famous book, for which he received the American Sociological Association’s MacIver award in 1961.
Background and summary
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life was the first book to treat face-to-face interaction as a subject of sociological study. Goffman treated it as a kind of report in which he frames out the theatrical performance that applies to face-to-face interactions. He believed that when an individual comes in contact with other people, that individual will attempt to control or guide the impression that others might make of him by changing or fixing his or her setting, appearance and manner. At the same time, the person the individual is interacting with is trying to form and obtain information about the individual.
Goffman also believed that all participants in social interactions are engaged in practices to avoid being embarrassed or embarrassing others. This led to Goffman's dramaturgical analysis. Goffman saw a connection between the kinds of acts that people put on in their daily life and theatrical performances.
In social interaction, as in theatrical performance, there is a front region where the performers (individuals) are on stage in front of the audiences. This is where the positive aspect of the idea of self and desired impressions are highlighted. There is also a back region, where individuals can prepare for or set aside their role. The "front" or performance that an actor plays out includes "manner," or how the role is carried out, and "appearance" including the dress and look of the performer. Often, performers work together in "teams" and form bonds of collegiality based on their common commitment to the performance they are mutually engaged in.
The core of Goffman's analysis lies in this relationship between performance and life. Unlike other writers who have used this metaphor, Goffman seems to take all elements of acting into consideration: an actor performs on a setting which is constructed of a stage and a backstage; the props in both settings direct his action; he is being watched by an audience, but at the same time he may be an audience for his viewers' play.
According to Goffman, the social actor in many areas of life will take on an already established role, with pre-existing front and props as well as the costume he would wear in front of a specific audience. The actor's main goal is to keep coherent and adjust to the different settings offered him. This is done mainly through interaction with other actors. To a certain extent this imagery bridges structure and agency enabling each while saying that structure and agency can limit each other.
A major theme that Goffman treats throughout the work is the fundamental importance of having an agreed upon definition of the situation in a given interaction, which serves to give the interaction coherency. In interactions or performances the involved parties may be audience members and performers simultaneously; the actors usually foster impressions that reflect well upon themselves and encourage the others, by various means, to accept their preferred definition. Goffman acknowledges that when the accepted definition of the situation has been discredited some or all of the actors may pretend that nothing has changed, provided that they find this strategy profitable to themselves or wish to keep the peace. For example, when a person attending a formal dinner – and who is certainly striving to present himself or herself positively – trips nearby party-goers may pretend not to have seen the fumble; they assist the person in maintaining face. Goffman avers that this type of artificial, willed, credulity happens on every level of social organization, from top to bottom.
Since the metaphor of a theatre is the leading theme of the book, the German and consequently also the Czech translation used a fitting summary as the name of the book - We All Play-Act (German: Wir Alle Spielen Theater, Czech: Všichni hrajeme divadlo), apart from the names in other languages that usually translate the title literally. Another translation, which also builds on the leading theatrical theme, rather than the original title, is the Swedish title of the book Jaget och Maskerna which literary translates The self and the masks - A study of everyday-life drama.
Philosopher Helmut R. Wagner called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life "by far" Goffman's best book and "a still unsurpassed study of the management of impressions in face-to-face encounters, a form of not uncommon manipulation." In 1998, the International Sociological Association listed The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as the tenth most important sociological book of the twentieth century, behind Talcott Parsons' The Structure of Social Action (1937).
- Macionis, John J. & Gerber, Linda M. Sociology 7th Canadian ed. (Pearson Canada Inc., 2010) pg.11
- "ISA - International Sociological Association: Books of the Century". International Sociological Association. 1998. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Smith, Greg (2006). Erving Goffman ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Hoboken: Routledge. pp. 33, 34. ISBN 978-0-203-00234-6.
- Trevino, James. Goffman's Legacy (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003) pg.35
- Ritzer, George. Sociological Theory (McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2008) pg.372
- cs:Všichni hrajeme divadlo
- Wagner, Helmut R. (1983). Phenomenology of Consciousness and Sociology of the Life-world: An Introductory Study. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press. p. 217. ISBN 0-88864-032-3.