Sociological Theories of the Self

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Sociological Theories of the self – continued
N.B - Notes taken directly from Sociology, by R Schaefer.

Goffman: Presentation of the Self

How do we manage our ‘self’? How do we display to others who we are? Erving Goffman, a sociologist associated with the interpretivist perspective, suggested that many of our daily activities involve attempts to convey impressions of who we are. His observations help us to understand the sometimes subtle yet critical ways in which we learn to present ourselves socially. They also offer concrete examples of this aspect of socialization.

Early in life, the individual learns to slant his or her presentation of the self in order to create distinctive appearances and satisfy particular audiences. Goffman states that we change our presentation of our ‘self’ based on the situation. Goffman calls this ‘impression management.’

He draws a reference between the theatre and impression management in society, and therefore, his approach has been called the dramaturgical approach. According to this perspective, people resemble performers in action. For example, a clerk may try to appear busier than he or she actually is if a supervisor happens to be watching. A customer in a single’s bar may try to look as if he or she is waiting for a particular person to arrive.

Goffman has also discussed another aspect of the self- face work. How often do you initiate some kind of face-saving behaviour when you feel embarrassed or rejected? In response to a rejection at the singles’ bar, a person may engage in face-work by saying “there really is’nt an interesting person in this entire crowd.” What Goffman was trying to make clear, is that in social interaction, we feel the need to maintain a proper image of the self if we are to continue social interaction.

In some cultures, people engage in elaborate deceptions to avoid losing face. In Japan, for example, where lifetime employment has until recently been the norm, ‘company men’...
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