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The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life Paperback – Unabridged, May 20, 1959

4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A study of human behavior in social situations and the way we appear to others. Dr. Goffman has employed as a framework the metaphor of theatrical performance. Discussions of social techniques are based upon detailed research and observation of social customs in many regions.

From the Inside Flap

A study of human behavior in social situations and the way we appear to others. Dr. Goffman has employed as a framework the metaphor of theatrical performance. Discussions of social techniques are based upon detailed research and observation of social customs in many regions.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 259 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (June 1, 1959)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385094027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385094023
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on June 21, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not a student of sociology or psychology, but I can't seem to stay away from the work of Erving Goffman. This is the third book by Goffman that I've read (others: Stigma, Asylums). In this book, Goffman elucidates a "dramaturgical" theory of self, which he claims is an additional method of explaining human action.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Dr. Erving Goffman, after receiving his Ph.D. in 1953 at the University of Chicago, first published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as a monograph at the Social Sciences Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in 1956. Published by Anchor Books in 1959, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life effectively elaborates on Thorstein Veblen's observations about the character of the Leisure Class. However, Goffman is particularly attentive to the performative and characteristic structure of society. With the idea that "the general notion that we make a presentation of ourselves to others," (252), Goffman's critical analysis of the individual and society illuminates Veblen's theory that the individual, aspiring to a higher social status, eventually becomes an emblem for that status. Goffman delves into the interaction within tightly-knit social fabrics, revealing that the substantive transition of the individual into society is not nearly as important as his/her "performance."
Entry into a tight social circle, according to Goffman, requires "wearing a look" to avoid betraying his true stance. Goffman notes social principles are guided by moral characteristics, which eventually support that individual in society.
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is not merely a refutation of the adage, "you can't judge a book by its cover" - Photographer Arthur Felig's (also known as WeeGee) 1943 photograph of two impeccably bedecked tiara-sporting society dames, glared at meanly by a crotchety woman, is apt to prompt anyone to pick up the text for a browse. Indeed, in Presenation's case, the photograph has a number of meanings in regard to the substance of the text.
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Format: Paperback
I really loved this book. First, I appreciated that it was written in the mid fifties by someone who valued the nuances of words and before books were dumbed down for popular understanding. It's a vocabulary builder.
It was extremely difficult for me to read. I was 41 at the time. Nearly every page revealed to me errors in my thoughts and actions that were profoundly embarrassing. I would have to lay it aside and creep back a few days later to again confront myself.
I am a Buddhist. The book seems to reveal fundamental Buddhist truths discovered independently by an European with no previous exposure to the Dharma. The book powerfully enunciates the proposition that there is no "essence" of ourselves and our personality - but that all life is a performance - all too often, poorly written, produced, directed and acted. In today's politically correct world - this book could never be published.
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I had to re-read each chapter two or three times to get a full sense of what Goffman was driving at. His ability to get at the inner workings of human interactions is, if not unique, darned rare. This book will repay the effort it takes to read it many times over. Often he'll take up a subject that other writers try to grapple with but don't quite nail, and he'll land a bull's eye so clean and square your head spins. The examples may be dated by the 1950s world Goffman was describing, but the fine details still ring true, as in "Similarly, at middle class American funerals, a hearse driver, decorously dressed in black and tactfully located at the outskirts of the cemetary during the service, may be allowed to smoke, but he is likely to shock and anger the bereaved if he happens to flick his cigarette stub into a bush, letting it describe an elegant arc, instead of circumspectly dropping it at his feet" It's that fine grained detail that Goffman picks up on, that's what's missing in so many page a minute recipe books of cheapo wisdom. And he writes better, too.
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