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Erving Goffman

Goffman’s Dramaturgical Approch


 Device their own CONDUCT
 GUIDE and CONTROL how others see
 Are different in social settings than
 Are social CON ARTISTS
• The Theatrical Presentation of life.
• Consists of Front Stage and Back Stage.
• Uses Impression Management as a too.
Social interaction
• Microsociology is an area that was first
developed by Erving Goffman.
• He took the belief that small aspects of social
life matter, not just major institutions, and
turned it into a systematic theoretical
perspective and research methodology.
• Goffman insisted that we look at all parts of
human interaction and developed the
dramaturgical perspective.

Why microsociology matters
• Goffman indicated at least three reasons
why studying seemingly trivial aspects of
social life matter:
1. Our everyday routines provide (and illustrate) the
structure of our lives.
2. Interactions reveal the importance of human
3. Interactions can tell us a lot about our larger society.

Impression management
• To explicate his perspective on social interaction,
Goffman wrote The Presentation of Self in
Everyday Life.
• He outlined the way in which social life was, in its
essence, theater:
– We play roles for audiences.
– We inhabit stages and sets.
– We make use of props and scripts.

Impression management
• An important part of all interactions is to attempt
to actively control the way others perceive you.
• This is the heart of impression management, and
it is crucial to identity construction.
• Different roles we play require different
impression management; some impression
management is sincere and some is cynical.

Impression management:
• Every day each of us starts by getting dressed,
which is a crucial piece of impression
• With what we wear, we reveal a great deal of
social information alluding to class, subculture,
sexuality, interests, and sometimes even politics
or ideas.

Cultural norms frequently dictate the acceptable
boundaries of personal space
Nonverbal communication
• Nonverbal communication includes any
exchange of information without speaking:
– Face and gesture
– Email and other online communication
– Personal space
– Presentation of self

Types of interaction
• There are two basic types of interaction: focused
and unfocused.
• Focused interactions, or encounters, are those
where we directly engage someone.
• Unfocused interactions are those where we are
present with others, but do not communicate
directly with them.

Identify examples of focused and unfocused interaction
in this photograph by Jeff Wall.
Audience segregation
• Because we all play different roles and these
different roles require different forms of
impression management, we often attempt to
keep our audiences segregated.
• In certain types of online communication (e.g.,
Facebook), this is more difficult, yet it is
critically important.

What does it mean?
• Part of examining social interaction is to try to
determine meaning even when it is unspoken.

• Read these lines: What do they mean?

A: I have a fourteen year-old son.
B: Well, that’s all right.
A: I also have a dog.
B: Oh, I’m sorry.

Context matters
• We learn to make sense of what people, say
not only through words, but also through
what your textbook calls shared
• Communication, then, is based, not only on
what we say, gesture, and do, but also on a set
of shared cultural understandings.
• Colloquialisms
• Hyperbole
How do background expectancies influence
our conversations?
Harold Garfinkel
• Harold Garfinkel introduced the study of how
we make sense of interactions and called this
approach ethnomethodology.
• Ethno means folk, or lay, so
ethnomethodology means understanding how
everyday people make sense of interactions.

Ethnomethodology in practice
• Garfinkel had his students test the idea of
background expectancies by having his
students challenge them.
• Experiments: Breech of Social Norms
• Example of challenges:
– Answering the question “How are you?” with a
complete response or a query for specification.

Studying talk
• It is also important to look at the actual talk
taking place in interactions.
• How we converse—how we actually use
words—is foundational to constructing and
maintaining a stable, comprehensible social

Conversation analysis
• Conversation analysis is a research method
wherein all aspects of interaction are noted
and assessed for meaning.
• The words themselves, timing, order, and
even status of participants are all examined.

Micro-macro linkage
• Oftentimes looking at micro-level interactions
can reveal patterns in the society at large.
• Ethnographic studies have, for example,
illuminated racial and gender inequalities, fear
of the homeless, and power structures in
• Arlie Hochschild’s classic, The Second Shift

Why microsociology matters
• Studying social interaction is important
because it allows us to learn at the level of the
everyday and then make connections upward.
• Good microsociology also tells us something
about how a society is structured and
restructured in everyday interactions.
• Microsociology offers “thick description.”

Time and space
• Social life is divided temporally.
– For example, our days, weeks, and even months are
organized in such a way that we know what to expect
on a July day versus a December day.
• Social life is divided spatially.
– For example, our lives are also organized so that we
know that at college there are certain expectations
that are different in the classroom than the dorm

Clicker Questions
1. Annie and Pat were out to dinner on a blind date. After
dessert, Annie made eye contact with and waved over the
server, raising her hand out to the side of the table in order to
indicate that she would be taking care of the bill. Annie’s cues
to the server are all examples of

a. ethnomethodology.
b. regionalization.
c. nonverbal communication.
d. response cries.

Clicker Questions
2. Ethnomethodology studies which of the following?

a. conversations in a café
b. voting patterns in presidential elections
c. rates of drug use among college students
d. cross-national infant mortality rates

Clicker Questions
3. Examining all facets of a conversation for meaning—from the
smallest filler words (such as umm and ah) to the precise
timing of interchanges (including pauses, interruptions, and
overlaps) is called

a. interactional vandalism.
b. focused interaction.
c. compulsion of proximity.
d. conversation analysis.

Clicker Questions
4. Roles are

a. socially defined.
b. studied in terms of time and geography.
c. where people act in front regions.
d. nonverbal communication.

Clicker Questions
5. What is focused interaction?

a. Individuals directly attend to what others say and do.

b. the examination of all facets of a conversation for meaning
c. Individuals act out formal roles in the social occasions or
d. a form of mental interaction that includes facial expression,
gestures, and body movements.

Clicker Questions
6. In a society such as our own, many of the people with whom
we come in contact over the course of a given day are
strangers. What is the technique we use to communicate to a
stranger that we are not suspicious of or hostile to him or her
and that we do not wish to avoid them?

a. a hard stare
b. a quick glance and then a look away
c. a complete avoidance of the other person’s eyes
d. a big smile and a quick “how-do-you-do”

Clicker Questions
Which best describes the concept “Social Telesis”?
A) Those who ruled deserved to do so because they
had “adapted” best to social conditions.
B) Those who ruled deserved to do so because they
were biologically superior.
C) Those who ruled did not deserve to do so because
they were not properly “adapted” to social
D) Those who ruled did not deserve to do so because
they were biologically superior
• Social Telesis (telesis = planned progress)
The intelligent direction of social activity towards
achievement of a desired and understood end.
How has electronic communication
We raise, address and interact social issues?