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The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life Paperback – June 1, 1959
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This book explores the realm of human behavior in social situations and the way that we appear to others. Each person in everyday social intercourse presents himself and his activity to others, attempts to guide and control the impressions they form of him, and employs certain techniques in order to sustain his performance, just as an actor presents a character to an audience.
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- ASIN : 0385094027
- Publisher : Anchor (June 1, 1959)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 259 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780385094023
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385094023
- Item Weight : 7.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.17 x 0.57 x 7.98 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #38,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on April 18, 2021
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-People do not exist, personas do.
-The world and life can be divided into on-stage and off-stage.
-All clothes are costumes
-All history is story
-Everywhere one stands or sits is a set and the props and decorations are a crucial part and coaxing out the correct characters for the scene.
It's a second-nature game everyone plays but few stop to read into it with a book lime this. It hides in plain sight, and it is a theatrical expectation that seems eternally married to the bedrock of conciousness.
It's very dry and abstract but if it is finished the world thereafter is forever changed.
However, the book is misguided. The idea of viewing social interaction as a performance on a stage is unecessary. The authors motives for saying this will make my position clearer.
(The following is a charicature of the author's argument). There is certianly a large amount of social behavior which is directed towards other people (the audience) in order for the audience to build an impression of the actor. Well, if it can happen here we can draw a parallel with other situations, infact all situations and therfore all of social interaction is like a performance on a stage, "All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isnt are hard to specify" (p 72). The performances can either be with individuals, or groups of people, and they can be performing conciously or unconciously. (end of charicature)
There are other arguments, obviously, and the statement "we can draw a parallel with other situations" is most of the content of the book, which i dont like to gloss over with a sentence. But the real question here is, is the view worthwhile? My answer: No. Social interaction is a complex phenomena that cant possibly be summed up with a signle metaphor. Yes, some social interaction is like a performance, where indivudals are intentionally making impressions on one another. Yes, some social behavior can arise from unconcious beliefs. However, most social interaction is exactly the way we see it, conciously controlled, meaningful, purposeful interaction with individuals; it is not some kind of performance with the purpose of creating a "reality".
I hope my view of the book is clear so that the biases on the final part of my review can be sorted out: the book is a waste of time. Where the author is right, the statement is little more than common sense. Where the author goes outside of common sense, he's wrong, sometimes plainly so. This book is part of the tradition in sociology of thinking that society pulls the wool over each individuals eyes, that reality is a social construct with no purpose other than social control (here the wool is the performance, and the control has to do with impressions ... but this quickly degenerates into an obscure mess of assertions). There is no real empirical support given for most of the claims. Where "evidence" is given, the evididence is so heavily intepreted that it fails to correspond to facts in the world but rather to facts about the views of the reporter. Where there is no correspondence to the world there is no truth. Various sources of sociology are cited, but this is more like intellectual bullying. Saying that some author, which also didnt have any empirical support for his claims, agrees with you is just to bully your reader into acepting your claims. The claims in the book have no practical application in the world, but only serve to intepret situations differently, and in personal opinion, less correctly. Nothing said here will lead to better predictions about social behavior or a better understanding of psychology. In short, this isnt a scientific study at all.
My final qualm with the book deserves its own paragraph, the use of language. The best example is the definitions given at the end of the introduction "A performance may be defined as all of the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants" (15). This is a curios definition. Me breathing while i work is a performance, it changes the percentages of O2 and CO2 in the atmosphere near my co-workers. Me staring into space is a performance, other people see me stare into space and are therefore influenced. Infact, me simply existing is a performance, since my existance causes a gravitational effect on the other participants, as well as influencing them to create beliefs about me existing. Its as if Goffman created a definition for performance which included all possible actions taken by any person, and then wrote a book about how all possible actions taken by any person fall under the category of performance. He didnt. He used a word that we associate with controlled behavior (performance) and defined it in a way no one is used to. Then he used alot of word play to show that behavior has no substance, its all for the purpose of maintaining social reality. I hope this very limited example shows the terrible use of language that is endemic to Goffman and sociology more generally.
So an ode to sociology is in order ... actually no it isnt. Why wont this subject go away? This book is an integral part of sociology, and it espouses the methods and style of sociological researchers and writers by being an archetypical work within the tradition. The methods are questionable; the style is obscure. Like it or hate it, sociology is a part of modern thought. Read the book to be an educated person and keep in mind its intellectual failings.
First caveat, I've not read any books by Talcott Parsons, or Manheim, and there were several sections in this book that were heavy enough in theory to make me give up. Despite these difficult sections, Goffman's style is breezy and interesting enough to make th is book worth reading for a layman.
Roughly, Goffman sets up a model of human interaction that takes most of its metaphors from the realm of theatrical performance. Human interaction takes place between performers and audiences, interactions happen front stage or back stage. This theatrical metaphor is joined by the idea that human actors interact in teams that share similar motives and values. He joins this "team" idea to the theatrical metaphor by emphasizing the difference between performers and audiences.
After laying out his framework, Goffman then uses examples from literature, his own research, and other researchers to illustrate his point. It is in this section that his writing can seem a bit dated. For example, he repeatedly discusses how college educated women will "play dumb" for their boy friends. I'm not saying this doesn't (still) happen, but the example could use somet updating.
One of the main insights that I took away from this excellent book is that humans largely exist as social beings through their interactions with other creatures, and the idea of a person as an "individual" is, itself, largely a construct. This largely contradicts much of the books/music I imbibed as a teen and young adult (Ayn Rand, punk rock, I'm looking at you).
It also seems to me that this "dramaturgical" perspective is a thesis that has been widely adopted by the self-help movement. Perhaps I will now explore some of that (voluminous) literature. Perhaps not.
This book is not without it's more disquieting moments. One thought this book led me to is that the important thing in life is the maintaining of whatever appearance one is required to maintaining. So long as that appearance is maintained, what lies underneath (i.e. the traditional concept of self or personality) is effectively unimportant. If we are only what are interactions with others make us, then what we think/feel on the inside and don't share with others, matters not at all.
Goffman himself explains that the dramaturgical perspective is merely another aspect of a larger attempt to explain human action in terms of human INTERaction, but for me, it has great explanatory weight.
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Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on November 3, 2017