Goffman lived and wrote in the early to late 20th century,
his sociological influences came before his time. There were two sociological
theorists in particular who influenced Goffman—Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) and
Georg Simmel (1858-1918).
1959 Erving Goffman has published “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” ,
in which he argues that we as individuals take “roles” in everyday life
situations. These everyday life situations are referred to as “acting stages”
of the “roles” played by individuals. Gofman calls this “impression
management”. In other words, each of us are trying to present ourselves how we
want those around us to see us.
lays out the seven elements that create a performance: belief in the role that
is being played, the front or ‘mask’, dramatic realization, idealization, maintenance
of expressive control, misrepresentation, and deception/mystification.
Goffman further more
speaks about dramaturgical analysis. He was admittedly influenced by Kenneth
Burke, who in 1945 presented dramatism, which he derived from Shakespeare. Burke’s dramatism
compares life to a play, laying out the course of human motives and human
relations and answers the question of how and why people explain what they do.
Elements of time, place, and audience all play a part to human interaction.
Sense of self is who one is, a dramatic effect emerging from the scene being
presented to the audience for consumption.
a performer, the front stage act “is that part of the 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” (Goffman 1956:15). The front stage allows
the actor to maintain a desired public image, which supports and defines his
current social status and standing within society. Back stage becomes the
opposite of the front, “defined as a place, relative to a given performance,
where the impression fostered by the performance is knowingly contradicted as a
matter of course” (Goffman 1956:69). Off stage performances occur with an
audience member on the individual level, while an actor may perform one way to
an audience of multiple people, they will change that behavior when interacting
privately with only one member in the audience, in large part due to the
setting of the interaction. When “performing”, people are able to hide
things about themselves that may not be consistent with the rituals of the
Goffman’s theories regarding presentation of self, have been present within
societies throughout history, recent advancement of technology and access to
social media has caused our society to change both the methods and frequency
with which we present ourselves to an intended audience. With social media
sites easily accessible, as individuals we are no longer subject to
performances in primarily face-to-face interaction with the audience. With the
emergence of Facebook and Twitter, among other social media websites, our
audience has grown larger and is given greater access to our performances via
with an online presence practices dramaturgy in some form of fashion. We take
flatteringly angled photos and post them on Facebook. We also use Facebook to
tell the world how we feel, either looking for praise or sympathy. We take
photographs of the high points of our lives and edit them and share them on
Instagram. LinkedIn shares the highlights of our work history. Constant
streaming information is presented to us constantly from friends, family members,
and occasionally strangers, but only the parts they (or we) want to share. We
hide the rest, keeping it to ourselves, giving only the details we wish to
social media we limit the amount of access an audience has to a performance.
When we post a status or picture on Facebook for example, the audience
interprets our performance in a very simplistic way, and is able to gather
information through only the two-dimensional screen they are looking at. Electronic
communication and social media, thus becomes a tool towards the attainment of
what Goffman defines as effective impression management.
Nathan Palmer states that the “selfie” is actually a manufactured
presentation of self and he gives us 2 reason why he believes that. He noticed
that most people take selfies in locations that are noteworthy. It’s a way to
say “Hey everybody, look where is visited.”
The second thing he noticed is that, before you take a selfie you make
sure your hair and clothes are looking good and then you make a face or “give a
look” to the camera. Next he gives us an example, the ridiculous trend of
making selfies with a “duck face”. (Nathan
also thinks that “the point of impression management and the presentation of
self is that you are not really the person you present yourself to be in a
selfie pic or on social media. That version of you is only part of the story.
Each of us leaves out our low moments, the pictures that make us look ugly,
and, for the most part, the struggles we face every day.”
In my opinion social media platforms impact a performance in two major ways. First,
they allow the actor to have far greater control over their appearance, and the
performance as a whole, by planning and reviewing information before they post
it, in turn allowing the actor to conceal undesirable characteristics more
easily. Second, as a result of this increase in control over the performance,
the audience can become confused or mislead during the performance. To extend
these issues to a contemporary example, consider the issue of online dating in
the context of a performance. Consider a person creates a profile on a public
dating site, but includes fake information and pictures of someone else,
leading another member on the site to believe that person is someone else.
Using the website as the setting of the performance, the actor in possession of
the fake profile is able to effectively alter their appearance and the change
the manner of their behavior. This widens the gap between the front stage
(visible profile page) and the back stage (true identity) performances, and
becomes problematic, causing confusion within the audience. During a
face-to-face interaction, the audience has the opportunity to formulate their
own thoughts and opinions based on their observation of the real-time visual
and auditory information they are experiencing. Through the use of social media
however, the audience is restricted to formulating their conclusions based
solely on the visual and written information the actor chooses to provide.
Through careful preparation the actor is able to present only the most positive
and most desirable aspects of their identity (or false identity). In the most
extreme cases, these interactions can become dangerous when sexually abusive
adults pose online as children in order to lure them into harmful or
potentially life threatening situations.
conclusion society changes and technology advances, the methods and frequency
of social interaction will undoubtedly change with it. Yet, no matter how
drastic these changes, Goffman’s conceptualizations of presentation of self
within social interaction will hold true. As long as social interaction occurs
between people, Goffman’s ideas will remain present. The challenge lays in our
interpretation these of concepts, and our effective, or ineffective,
application of them to everyday life.