Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1-4
[When two or more people interact, there are two aspects of situations that may be involved. Some aspects of a situation are familiar to the participants, so that they know how to behave and do so habitually without giving it much thought, such as knowing that it is a college admission interview. Other aspects however may not be clear to participants and therefore problematic, such as the student wondering what will best impress the interviewer, and the interviewer wondering what to make of the student's statements and appearance. Participants must actively seek clues from each other and their surroundings to come to a mutually agreed upon definition of the situation, in order to decide what to expect from others and how to behave in turn. The following description of interaction applies especially to these uncertain, problematic aspects]
When an individual enters the presence of others they commonly seek to acquire information about him or to bring into play information about him already possessed. They will be interested in his general socio-economic status, his conception of self, his attitude toward them, his com¬petence, his trustworthiness, etc. Although some of this information seems to be sought almost as an end in itself, there are usually quite practical reasons for acquiring it. Information about the individual helps to define the situa¬tion, enabling others to know in advance what he will expect of them and what they may expect of him. Informed in these ways. the others will know how best to act in order to call forth a desired response from him.
. For those present, many sources of information become accessible and many signs become available for conveying this information. If unacquainted with the individual, observers can glean clues from his con¬duct and appearance which allow them to apply their previous experience with individuals roughly similar to the one before them or,...
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