Ann Branaman: Goffman's Social Theory

Goffman's Social Theory

by Ann Branaman
(from The Goffman Reader
edited by Charles Lemert and Ann Branaman)

Erving Goffman is the quintessential sociologist of everyday social life. The self, social interaction, social order, deviance, social inequality, calculation, morality—all are matters taken up in Goffman's writings. Goffman's major contribution is to portray the interdependence of these phenomena by painting them into a complex portrait.
The writings of Erving Goffman include eight books, three collections of essays, and at least twenty-eight essays, published in the period from 1951 to 1983. Goffman has been and continues to be widely read. However, he is typically read and appropriated in a piecemeal fashion, as can be seen by a review of entries in the social science citation index and the secondary liter­ ature on Goffman. Because there is no comprehensive collection of Goffman's writings, students typically first learn about him by reading one of his books or essays. Introductory sociology or social psychology students are often assigned The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Stigma, or Interaction Ritual. 

Students of deviance or medical sociology might read Stigma or one or more of the essays collected in Asylums. Sociologists of gender might read Gender Advertisements and "The Arrangement Between the Sexes." Theory students may read Frame Analysis or "Felicity's Condition." Communications students sometimes read Forms of Talk. Most of Goffman's writings get read by somebody, though seldom are they studied as a whole. However he is read, Goffman's depiction of the details of social life in any one of his works demonstrates his penetrating style of analysis and offers an insider/outsider's angle on the depicted social realm. Yet, frag­ mentary reading of Goffman is inadequate to put Goffman's snapshots of social life together in such a way that the larger portrait of Goffman the social theorist can be appreciated.

In this collection, we divide Goffman's writings into four categories: (1) The Production of Self; (2) The Confined Self; (3) The Nature of Social Life; and (4) Frames and the Organization of Experience. The categories represent distinct aspects of Goffman's thought and usually pull together writings of roughly die same time period in Goffman's career. Yet, as this introduction to Goffman's ideas will indicate, the categories blend together in a way that makes it possible to identify the most consistent and illumi­ nating social theoretical ideas.

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Corresponding to each of the four categories into which we divide Goffman's work, four main ideas of sociological import can be identified, each of which will be discussed in more detail below. {The first, and prob­ ably the most central, idea in Goffman's thought is that the self is a social product. The self is a social product in two senses. First, it is a product of the performances that individuals put on in social situations. There is no essence that exists inside an individual, waiting to be given expression in social situations. Rather, the sense of self arises as a result of publicly vali­ dated performances. Yet, secondly, even though individuals play an active role in fashioning these self-indicating performances, they are generally constrained to present images of themselves that can be socially supported in the context of a given status hierarchy. Thus, the self is a social product in the sense that it depends upon validation awarded and withheld in accor­ dance with the norms of a stratified society.

The second main idea in Goffman's thought is that the degree to which the individual is able to sustain a respectable self-image in the eyes of others depends on access to structural resources and possession of traits and attri­ butes deemed desirable by the dominant culture. Asylums poignantly illustrates that the capacity to sustain a dignified image of oneself depends on access to personal possessions, privacy, and autonomy. As Goffman points out in "The Territories of Self," a chapter in Goffman's book Relations in Public (1971), access to such resources varies inversely with social status. Not only does self depend on structural props associated with power and status, but Goffman's argument in Stigma is that sustaining a viable self also depends on possession of traits and attributes deemed by the dominant society to be requisite of full-fledged humanity.

The third idea that can be drawn from Goffman's work concerns his view of the nature of social life. Goffman's analysis oscillates between metaphors of drama, ritual, and game, metaphors that draw attention to both the manipulative and the moral aspects of social life. The point indicated by Goffman's oscillation, however, is that manipulation and morality are not as separable as we might like to think. Morality does not reside within us or above us but rather is manufactured through performances and interaction rituals designed to affirm human dignity. Yet, on the other side, the seem­ ingly manipulative and self-serving focus on enhancing one's self-image in the eyes of others is the most essential way in which we commit ourselves to the moral order of society. We are attached to the moral order of society, according to Goffman, by means of attachment to face. We affirm the ritual order by taking care to maintain face—our own face and the faces of others. Thus, morality and manipulation, according to Goffman's portrayal, are matters not all that separate.
The fourth of Goffman's key theoretical ideas is that social experience is governed by "frame," or principles of organization which define the meaning

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and significance of social events. Framing involves bracketing an activity and providing some sort of cue as to what the bracketed activity means. For instance, I can frame my words as my own or as an imitation of someone else, or I could frame a performance as the real thing or as practice. The key relevance of this idea in Goffman's social theory is that events, actions, performances, and selves do not always speak for themselves but rather depend on framing for their meaning. Although the meaning of experience relies on framing, however, individuals are not free to frame experience as they please. Goffman emphasizes that framing is constrained by social struc­ ture and social organization, explicitly stating that he considers social structure and social organization primary relative to the framing of experi­ ence in everyday social situations {Frame Analysis, p. 13). On the other hand, Goffman suggests that the importance of the analysis of frame is limited not only to an understanding of how social life is experienced. Rather, the framing of experience at the interactional level is sufficiently autonomous relative to social structure and organization that it is possible for framing to strengthen or loosen structural arrangements. In fact, some social arrangements are supported in large part by the framing of experience in everyday life. The social construction of gender, according to Goffman's analysis, is a case in point, as we shall see.

The Production of Self

In Goffman's work, two seemingly contradictory sets of definitions, or images, of the self appear. First, Goffman suggests, on the one hand, that the self is entirely a social product, with no underlying personal core. On the other hand, he presents a dualistic image of self when he argues that there is an unsocialized component to the self that drives the individual into and out of social intercourse and sometimes impels the individual to behave in ways out of keeping with social norms. Secondly, Goffman suggests that individuals are not entirely determined by society insofar as they are able to manipulate strategically the social situation and others' impressions of them­ selves, fashioning themselves in much the same way as they would a character in a theatrical production. Yet, on the other hand, Goffman emphasizes that individuals are not able to choose freely the images of self they would have others accept, but rather are constrained to define them­ selves in congruence with the statuses, roles, and relationships they are accorded by the social order.
The rudiments of these ideas about the nature of the self that Goffman developed early in his career are already presented in Goffman's 1952 essay "On Cooling the Mark Out." Here, he makes three main points about the nature of the self. First, the self is built out of public claims made by indi-

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viduals concerning possession of values or properties. Secondly, although there is some room for individual manipulation, the extent to which a person is able to defend self-claims is dependent on the structure of social life. Most self claims, in other words, involve claims to roles, statuses, and relation­ ships and thus require validation by social organizations and other social participants. Finally, Goffman thinks that the process of "cooling the mark out" indicates something more general about the nature of the self. "Cooling the mark out" is the process whereby the person whose self claims cannot be socially sustained is aided in coming to a comfortable resignation to a lesser self. Goffman points out that the fact that "cooling the mark out" occurs with such regularity and ease suggests mat the self is not a unitary entity. A person's self is generally built out of multiple, loosely-integrated social roles. When one is destroyed, an individual in most cases finds conso­ lation in others ("On Cooling the Mark Out", 1952, p. 461).

In the work following "On Cooling the Mark Out"—especially The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and Interaction Ritual—these themes are further developed. The following, seemingly contradictory, sets of images of self are explored: (1) the self as socially determined and the dualistic social- ized/unsocialized self; (2) the individual as a strategic manipulator of impressions and the socially constrained, script-following social actor.
Although the idea that the self is a social product persists throughout Goffman's career, dualistic images of the self are especially evident in Goffman's early work. In "On Face-work" (1955; reprinted in Interaction Ritual [IR, 1967), Goffman defines self, first, as an "image pieced together from the expressive implications of the full flow of events in an undertaking"; but self also denotes a "kind of player in a ritual game who copes honorably or dishonorably, diplomatically or undiplomatically, with the judgmental contingencies of the situation" (IR, p. 31). In other words, the self is the mask the individual wears in social situations, but it is also the human being behind the mask who decides which mask to wear.

In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life [PS] (Doubleday, Anchor Books edition, 1959), Goffman implies a similar duality to the self in his distinc­ tion between the "all-too-human self and the "socialized self (PS, p. 56), or between the "self-as-performer" and the "self-as-character" (PS, p. 252). The all-too-human self is the human being as a psychobiological organism with impulses, moods, and variable energies (PS, p. 56), but also is the self which engages in the "all-too-human task of staging a performance" (PS, p.
. 252)^joffman suggests that the self-as-performer is not merely a social product. The individual as performer is the thinking, fantasizing, dreaming, desiring human being whose capacity to experience pride and shame moti­ vates him or her not only to perform for others but also to take precautions against embarrassment. The attributes of the self-as-performer are psychobiological in nature yet "seem to arise out of intimate interaction with
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the contingencies of staging performances" (PS, pp. 253-4)

It is the self-as-performer which could properly be considered to be housed within the individual organism and not entirely determined by social contingencies. When we define our own or another person's self, however, we usually have in mind much more than these basic energies, desires, and impulses. Goffman emphasizes that the self-as-performer is not the same as the self as such, but rather is the basic motivational core which motivates us to engage in the performances with which we achieve selfhood. Thus, dual- istic images of self do not contradict his idea that the self is socially constructed. As Goffman sees it, the socialized self, or the self-as-character, represents a person's unique humanity. It is the socialized self or the char­ acter performed, not the self-as-performer, which is equated with self in our society. But this part of the self, according to Goffman, is a social product. Paradoxically, it is the self performed outwardly in social life and not the inner motivational core that we think of as the
inner self. Goffman states
the case quite eloquently in a passage from The Presentation of Self.

A correctly staged and performed character leads the audience to impute a self to a performed character, but this imputation—this self-—is a product of a scene that comes off, and is not a cause of it. The self, then, as a performed character, is not an organic thing that has a specific location, whose funda­ mental fate is to be born, to mature, and to die; it is a dramatic effect arising diffusely from a scene that is presented, and the characteristic issue, the crucial concern, is whether it will be credited or discredited.

(The Presentation of Self, 1959, pp. 252-3)

Despite Goffman's acknowledgement of the human being behind the mask, he consistently downplays its significance. In fact, Goffman suggests that the sole importance of the self-as-performer is that it propels individ­ uals to attend the social scenes at which they become social constructs. Although many readers (probably more at the time Goffman wrote than now) would like to save a certain human dimension of the self from the grip of the social, Goffman states quite explicitly in "On Face-work" that universal human nature is nothing more than the capacity and propensity to be bound by moral rules and to become a social construct.

Universal human nature is not a very human thing. By acquiring it, the person becomes a kind of construct, built up not from inner psychic propensities but from moral rules that are impressed upon him from without. These rules, when followed, determine the evaluation he will make of himself and of his fellow-participants in the encounter, the distribution of his feelings, and the kinds of practices he will employ to maintain a specified and obligatory kind of ritual equilibrium. The general capacity to be bound by moral rules may
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well belong to the individual, but the particular set'of rules which transforms him into a human being derives from requirements established in the ritual organization of social encounters.
("On Face-work," 1955; reprinted in Interaction Ritual, 1967, p. 45)

Not only is there little substance to that universally human part of the self Goffman sets apart from the social construct, but Goffman further under­ mines the significance of the duality by pointing out that the distinction people so much want to make between the "real" and the "contrived" self does not correspond to his own distinction between the all-too-human self and the socialized self. Even while conceding that individuals in our society distinguish between the real and the contrived self, Goffman's point is to challenge such dichotomous conceptions (PS, p. 72). Both the real and the contrived self are contingent upon performance in social situations. The successful staging of a contrived self, Goffman points out, involves the use of the same real "techniques by which everyday persons sustain their real social situations" (PS, pp. 254-5). Both honest and dishonest performers "must take care to enliven their performances with appropriate expressions, exclude from their performances expressions that might discredit the impression being fostered, and take care lest the audience impute unin­ tended meanings" (PS, p. 66). The very structure of the self, he argues, "can be seen in terms of how we arrange for such performances in our Anglo- American society" (PS, p. 252).

In arguing that the self is a product of performances in social situations, Goffman is not suggesting that a person is no more than any particular situ- ationally defined role. Admitting a distinction between the person and the situationally defined role, however, he points out that the distinction itself is a social product. For instance, the college student who works as a janitor during the summer does not identify and is not identified by others with the role because of the social meaning of his student status and social class posi­ tion. While several early interpreters of Goffman criticized his failure to distinguish the person and the situationally defined role, as well as his weak understanding of the continuity of personal biography,1 certain comments of Goffman's in Frame Analysis [FA] (1974) appear to answer jhese criti­ cisms. First, Goffman gives his "three cheers for the self," in acknowledging the case to be made for a continuous self. The first is his acknowledgement of the distinction between person and role. "It is a basic assumption of any particular role performance that the performer has a continuing biography, a single continuing personal identity, beyond that performance, albeit one that is compatible and consistent with the role in question" (FA, p. 286). Secondly, he acknowledges the continuity of the individual's life. A person's continuing biography insures, to an important degree, a "traceable life" (FA,

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p. 287). The activities and events of an individual's life generally leave a permanent tracing which increase the possibility of uncovering a true record of it (FA, p. 288). Thirdly, Goffman points out that people are able to distance themselves from some of the activities, events, and roles in which they are involved by defining them as accidental or otherwise unrelated or insignificant to personal identity (FA, p. 292). With this point, Goffman makes reference to his earlier discussion of "role distance"—the process by which the individual effectively expresses separateness between himself and his putative role ("Role Distance" in Encounters [E], 1961, p. 108). Finally, Goffman acknowledges the "human being" peeking out behind all of the person's immediate roles (FA, pp. 293-4). He thus concludes: "So three cheers for the self." But then he adds, "Now let us reduce the clatter" (FA, p. 294).

He reduces the clatter by pointing out, as he had already in The Presentation of Self and in other works, that the difference between role and person is itself socially framed. A distinction is made between the person, individual, or player and the role, capacity, or function. The nature of the distinction, however, depends on the particular person-role formula gener­ ated by the frame which sustains it (FA, p. 269).

There is a relation between person and role. But the relationship answers to the interactive system—to the frame—in which the role is performed and the self of the performer glimpsed. Self, then, is not an entity half-concealed behind events, but a changeable formula for managing oneself during them. Just as the current situation prescribes the official guise behind which we will conceal ourselves, so it provides for where and how we will show through, the culture itself prescribing what sort of entity we must believe ourselves to be in order to have something to show through in this manner.

(Frame Analysis, 1974, pp. 573-4)

Goffman's point is not that the person is no more or less than the situa- tionally defined role, but rather tbat neither is essential. Both person and role are equally dependent on social definition (FA, p. 270). As he argued earlier in "Role Distance," the individual's expressions of a self behind a role are as much subject to role analysis as the roles themselves (E, p. 152).

One of Goffman's most persistent points (made repeatedly in The Presentation of Self, in "Role Distance," and Frame Analysis) is that what a person "really is" is seldom discoverable and, in any case, is not really the issue. "What is important is the sense he provides them through his dealings with them of what sort of person he is behind the role he is in" (FA, p. 298). This is not, of course, to attribute sovereignty to the individual over the self- manufacturing process.
Several passages throughout Goffman's work, if taken out of context,

Hi Goffman's Social Theory

might seem to indicate that Goffman accords individuals undue control over the images that others receive. In "Role Distance," Goffman depicts the individual as the manager of a "holding company" of multiple selves, employing techniques designed to determine how others perceive the signif­ icance and relative importance of these selves (E, p. 91). He points out, furthermore, that while the individual cannot completely control the infor­ mation about himself that becomes available in the situation, he does "actively participate in sustaining a definition of the situation that is stable and consistent with his image of himself (E, p. 104).

Though in none of Goffman's work does he outrightly suggest that indi­ viduals are masters of the process by which they attempt to persuade themselves and others to accept given self-conceptions, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life does focus on the individual's active role in advancing a particular conception of self to others. Because of the very basic fact that social life must be organized largely on the basis of inference concerning facts which lie beyond the time and place of interaction (PS, pp. 1-3), individ­ uals are afforded a certain amount of leeway to control how others see them (PS, p. 8). "Dramatic realization" is a technique individuals use to "fill in the truth" of their selves. "Dramatic realization" denotes the signs used by individuals to infuse otherwise unapparent or obscure activity with the meaning they wish to convey (PS, p. 30). A student nodding her head to reveal otherwise unapparent attentiveness is one example. Although there is nothing inherently deceptive about such activity, Goffman does point out that "dramatic realization" often entails a diversion from effective action (PS, p. 33), as when vigorous head-nodding interferes with note-taking and further attentiveness. In addition, Goffman points out that "idealization," the presentation of oneself as living up to ideal standards, actually makes the person better from the outside in. Yet, at the same time, it entails a certain amount of concealment of inconsistencies (PS, p. 41).

Though the individual exercises a certain amount of liberty in the manage­ ment of impressions, Goffman does not accord the individual complete autonomy in deciding the images of self to be conveyed. In general, person-role formulas are socially, not individually, determined. Personal identity, furthermore, is perhaps more commonly constituted by the framing of an individual's experience by others than it is by the individual. In Stigma
[S] (1963), Goffman defines personal identity in terms which require no corresponding subjective experience of the individual at all. What matters is not how the individual identifies him or herself but rather how he or she is identified by others. By "personal identity," Goffman refers to those char­ acteristics and facts which set off the individual person in the minds of other people (S, p. 56). He explicitly points out, however, that he does not include in his definition of personal identity the idea that "what distinguishes an individual from all others is the core of his being" (S, p. 56). Goffman does
Goffman's Social Theory liii

set "self-identity" or "ego-identity"—the "subjective sense of his own situ­ ation and his own continuity and character" (S, p. 105)—apart from social and personal identity. The self-identity of individuals, however, bears a close relation to their various social experiences (S, p. 105). The individual, Goffman points out, "constructs an image of himself out of the same materials from which others first construct a social and personal identifica­ tion, although he exercises important liberties in regard to what he fashions" (S, p. 106).

For all the talk of the individual's self-determining power, there is much more of the socially determined limitations on this power. The self, as Goffman defines it in Relations in Public [RP] (1971), is "the code that makes sense out of almost all die individual's activities and provides a basis for orga­ nizing them. This self is what can be read about the individual by interpreting the place he takes in an organization of social activity, as confirmed by expressive behavior" (RP, p. 366). The individual, however, is socially constrained to express through this code a "workable definition of himself'—in other words, a definition which is closely attuned to the one mat odiers can accord him (RP, p. 366). In The Presentation of Self, Goffman emphasizes mat the effectiveness of the individual's management of impres­ sions depends on the projected agreement of others (PS, p. 9). The fact that the individual's impression management may rarely be contested attests not to the individual's sovereignty as much as it does to the fact that the indi­ vidual is conservative in the liberties he or she takes in overreaching the bounds of the "interactional modus vivendi" (PS, p. 9). The mutual accep­ tance of "lines" is a basic structural feature of interaction which constrains the person to stick to die line initially presented ("On Face-work" in IR, p.

11). The individual's social "face" is "only on loan to him from socieiy"; "approved attributes and their relation to face make of every man his own jailer; this is a fundamental social constraint even though each man may like his cell" (IR, p. 10).

The Confined Self

Sometimes, the cell can be quite constraining. In many of his early works and essays, Goffman defines the social construction of self without focusing on its constraining aspects. That is, he defines the dramatic techniques and social processes which produce die self and describes the nature of ritual order and the games played to maintain and manipulate it. Under ordinary (or perhaps ideal) circumstances, individuals have access to sufficient resources to produce a respectable self and stand in sync with the social order to such an extent that they honor its rules and accept their allotted places in it. In works published about the same time as The Presentation of Self and

liv Goffman's Social Theory
several of the essays in Interaction Ritual—namely, the essays collected in Asylums and the short book Stigma—Goffman shifts the focus of analysis from "normal" experience to examine the experience of self and social inter­ action from the perspective of individuals deprived of the institutional supports and claims to normal identity taken for granted by most. In the context of an environment which imposes upon an individual a degraded status, it is easy to view the individual's attachment to self as a prison. Goffman is trying to say something about the structure of the self in general, however, and not just about the selves of individuals living under abnormal constraints.

In the mid 1950s, at the same time when Goffman was writing about the self and social interaction in general, he was engaged in a three-year study of the life of psychiatric inmates at St Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC {Asylums [A], p, ix). Though apparently divergent in topic from the depic­ tion of normal interactional rituals and impression management techniques of everyday life in his other works, his concerns are, in fact, quite congruent. As he states in the introduction to the collection Asylums, "A chief concern is to develop a sociological version of the structure of the self (A, p, xiii).

By examining the effects of total institutions on the experience of self, "On the Characteristics of Total Institutions," an essay in Asylums, exposes the dependence upon social arrangements of the self-experience of individuals not so constrained. Goffman defines total institutions as social arrangements which regulate, under one roof and according to one rational plan, all spheres of individuals' lives—sleeping, eating, playing, and working (A, pp. 5-6). As he sees it, total institutions are "forcing houses for changing persons; each is a natural experiment on what can be done to the self (A, p. 12). Individuals who enter a total institution are stripped of the supports provided by the social arrangements of their home worlds and suffer a series of mortifications of self. Analyzing these fairly standard processes by which a person's self is mortified in total institutions, Goffman says, "can help us to see the arrangements that ordinary establishments must guarantee if members are to preserve their civilian selves" (A, p. 14).
The processes by which an individual's self is mortified include:

(1) Role Dispossession. In civil life, individuals are free to schedule their lives such that they can play a sequence of roles throughout the day and the life-cycle. Life is structured such that no single role prohibits performing other roles. In the total institution, on the other hand, membership disrupts role-scheduling, since the separation of the inmate from the wider world may continue indefinitely (A, p. 14).

(2) Programming and identity-trimming. Admissions procedures (such as taking a life history, searching, bathing, and instructing as to rules) function to shape and code the individual into "an object that can be fed

Goffman's Social Theory lv

into the administrative machinery of the establishment." Such program­ ming necessarily involves exclusion of most of the individual's previous bases of self-identification (A, p. 16).

Dispossession of name, property, and "identity kit." Upon admission to a total institution, individuals are deprived of certain possessions in which self feelings are invested. They typically lose their full name (A, p. 18), are deprived of personal possessions (A, p. 19), and are denied access to the cosmetic and clothing supplies or "identity kit" necessary for managing personal image (A, p. 20). Without these resources, indi­ viduals lose the ability to present their usual image to others (A, pp. 21-2).

(4) Imposition of degrading postures, stances, and deference patterns. The inmate is frequently required to adopt postures and stances—such as standing at attention or submitting to strip searches—that mortify the self (A, p. 21). In addition, the necessity of begging or asking for cigarettes, matches, water, or permission to use the telephone as well as staff expec­ tations of verbal deference force the inmate into undignified verbal postures (A, p. 22). Corresponding to the indignities the inmate must enact are the indignities he or she must suffer from others, such as teasing, poking at negative attributes, and name-calling (A, pp. 22-3). Whether the indignities are enacted by the individual or imposed from without, they result in individuals adopting a stance incompatible with their conception of self (A, p. 23).

(5) Contaminative exposure. Contaminative exposure is both physical and interpersonal. Outside of total institutions, an individual is able to "hold objects of self-feeling—such as body, his immediate actions, his moughts, and some of his possessions—clear of contact with alien and contaminating things. But in total institutions these territories of the self are violated; the boundary that the individual places between his being and the environment is invaded and the embodiments of self profaned" {A, p. 23). First, the individual's information preserve is violated, as facts about the inmate's social statuses and past behaviors are collected in a file available to staff {A, pp. 23-4). Further, since the total institu­ tion offers no private spaces to conceal ordinarily private activities, the inmate is forced to expose himself in humiliating circumstances {A, p. 24).

The inmate is contaminated not only by these physical exposures but also by forced interpersonal contact {A, p. 28). Forced submission to strip searches is the most direct and obvious example. More pervasive is the status-contamination inmates endure by being mixed with inmates of different ages and statuses (A, p. 29), and the denial of the right to hold oneself above others through a formal style of address (A, p. 31).

Disruption of usual relation of individual actor and his acts. In ordinary
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life, an individual is generally able to separate self from disrespectful treat­ ments of it by others (A, pp. 35-6). Through certain face-saving reactive expressions, the individual is able to establish a distance between the mortifying situation and the self (A, p. 36). Such expressions—sullen- ness, failure to express deference, subtle expressions of irony or contempt—on the part of the inmate, however, are taken to be actions revealing the self rather than actions revealing the self s separateness from the degrading circumstances. Goffman calls this a "looping effect": "an agency that creates a defensive response on the part of the inmate takes this very response as the target of its next attack. The individual finds that his protective response to an assault upon self is collapsed into the situa­ tion" (A, pp. 35-6).

(7) Restrictions on self-determination, autonomy, and freedom of action. The net result of each of the previous defilements of the self is to disrupt the actions that in civil society serve as indications of adult self-determina­ tion, autonomy, and freedom (A, p. 43).

The completely mortified person has access to none of the resources, free­ doms, and territories necessary for sustaining a viable self. The mortifications of the self that Goffman describes in Asylums are the inverse of the "territories of the self that Goffman later describes in Relations in Public (1971). Central to maintenance of self, according to Goffman, is the preservation of "territories of the self." Territories of the self are simultane­ ously material and ideal, consisting of the physical spaces over which a person can command use as well as the rights to privacy and the claims on social space that a person is entitled to make. Goffman outlines eight types of territories of the self: personal space, the stall, use space, the turn, the sheath, possessional territory, information preserve, and conversation preserve (RP, pp. 29-40). Although most people can take for granted the capacity to make most of these claims at least some of the time, Goffman emphasizes that one's place in various stratification orders determines when, where, and to what degree one can claim the territorial preserves necessary for sustaining self. "In general, the higher the rank, the greater the size of all territories of the self and the greater the control across the boundaries" (RP, pp. 40-1).

The condition of the mental patient is one in which the territories of the self are most minuscule and control over them nearly nonexistent. Goffman summarizes the conditions of the mental patient and their implications for the self most poignandy in "The Moral Career of the Mental Patient," an essay in Asylums.

Like the neophyte in many of these total institutions, the new inpatient finds himself cleanly stripped of many of his accustomed affirmations, satisfactions,

Goffman's Social Theory lvii

and defenses, and is subjected to a rather full set of mortifying experiences: restriction of free movement, communal living, diffuse authority of a whole echelon of people, and so on. Here one begins to learn about the limited extent to which a conception of oneself can be sustained when the usual setting of supports for it are suddenly removed.
{Asylums, 1961, p. 148)

The self-experience of the inmate illuminates the fact that the "self arises not merely out of its possessor's interactions with significant others, but also out of the arrangements that are evolved in an organization for its members" (4, p. 148).
People can separate themselves from some settings or distance themselves from some of their actions and roles. Other settings, such as living rooms, are viewed as extensions of the self of their owner but are under the indi­ vidual's control to design for the express purpose of influencing others' impressions. There are still other settings, however, that are taken as expres­ sions of the individual's status but over which the individual has little or no control. A work setting is one example, but a psychiatric hospital is a more extreme one since the self is more explicitly at stake.
And this is due not merely to their uniquely degraded living levels, but also to the unique way in which significance for self is made explicit to the patient, piercingly, persistently, and thoroughly. Once lodged on a given ward, the patient is firmly instructed that the restrictions and deprivations he encoun­ ters are not due to such blind forces as tradition or economy—and hence dissociable from the self—but are intentional parts of his treatment, part of his need at the time, and therefore an expression of the state that his self has fallen to.

(Asylums, 1961, p. 149)

The self of the mental patient is defined by these institutional conditions to such an extent that there is little room for maneuvers aimed at maintaining a viable self-image in the eyes of others. In the terms he later used in Frame Analysis, the mental patient is "framed." In this latter work, Goffman notes that certain kinds of power generate persistent misframing: "When the overall treatment of an individual hinges on judgments of his competence, and when his protestations regarding judgment can themselves be discounted, then misframing can be common and long-lasting" (FA, p. 145). The mental patient, for instance, is identified by the institution, and has little hope of combatting the framework by which his experience is interpreted.

The experience of the mental patient, however, is the extreme case of a mere general experience of "normals." "The divination of moral character

lviii Goffman's Social Theory

by adducing indicators from the past is one of the major preoccupations of everyday life. And the treacherous feature is that 'a case can be made,' and at the same time there is no foolproof way of determining whether it is made correctly" (FA, p. 453). Such a vulnerability of experience opens the possi­ bility for the individual to be contained in what Goffman calls a "frame trap"—an arrangement of the world in such a way that "incorrect views, however induced, are confirmed by each bit of new evidence or each effort to correct matters, so that, indeed, the individual finds that he is trapped and nothing can get through" (FA, p. 480).

So, it is not that inmates are ignorant or neglectful of the techniques of self-presentation, as is sometimes attributed to them. Rather, participation in the impression-management games employed by people in ordinary life can work against, rather than in favor of, the chances of sustaining a desired conception of self-identity—as when any claim to self the mental patient makes is quickly deflated by the staff (A, p. 162). For an inmate or other stigmatized person, there are definite limits to the claims about oneself that will be accepted by others—no matter how strategically they are made or how authentic the claims may be.

The essays collected in Asylums deal with a delimited realm of existence, even as their purpose is to shed light on the social supports necessary for sustaining self in general. In a sense, it could be said the Stigma [S] (1963) broadens the analysis and makes a total institution out of the whole of society. Society could be considered a total institution insofar as it is the basis of a single, universal system of honor that determines the complement of attributes individuals must possess in order to be accorded full-fledged humanity. Stigma refers to an attribute that is generally considered to be deeply discrediting. A stigmatized person, at least in respect of their stigma, is often not considered to be a human being at all. Stigmatized individuals typically are denied the respect and regard from others that the uncontam- inated aspects of their existence would lead them to expect (S, pp. 8-9). Obviously, some attributes are more stigmatizing than others, yet Goffman delineates three types of stigma in such a way that it has some relevance to the personal experience of most people.

Three grossly different types of stigma may be mentioned. First there are the abominations of the body—the various physical deformities. Next there are blemishes of individual character perceived as weak will, domineering or unnatural passions, treacherous and rigid beliefs, and dishonesty, these being inferred from a known record of, for example, mental disorder, imprison­ ment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicidal attempts, and radical political behavior. Finally there are the tribal stigma of race, nation, and religion . . .

(Stigma, 1963, p. 4)
Goffman's Social Theory lix

"Normals" are people who do not depart negatively from the particular expectations at issue. Goffrnan points out, however, that few of us are normals in every respect. Most are not crippled or criminals. But not many, if even any, are entirely free from the tribal stigmas to which Goffrnan refers. Goffman's category of tribal stigma can be extended in such a way as to include most of us. Goffrnan himself makes a remark in his book Stigma that would support this extension.
In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports.

{Stigma, 1963, p. 128)

The rest—women, people of color, gays and lesbians, children, and more generally most human beings—are negated by this set of standards and are thus considerably less equipped to sustain self-images accorded honor, or even humanity, by the societal system. Like normals, stigmatized individ­ uals must engage in self-presentation, but of a different sort. Instead of trying to present themselves favorably, they are required to present themselves in such a way that indicates that they accept their inferior status and don't intend to make claims to full-fledged humanity by treading on ground reserved for normals.

Individuals may deny their failure. They may develop identity beliefs of their own, living an existence alienated from society and defining the normals as the ones who are not quite human (S, p. 6). Or, they might join a supportive group of fellow deviants with different standards of humanity (S, p. 114). Yet, Goffrnan suggests that the development of alternative systems of honor is rare in society, at least in the 1963 American society of which he spoke. "In America at present, however, separate systems of honor seem to be on the decline. The stigmatized individual tends to hold the same beliefs about identity that we do" (S, p. 7).

In the same way that the psychiatric institution disallows the patient to separate himself from mortifying treatment, society defines "good adjust­ ment" to possession of stigmatizing attributes in such a way that challenge to the world of normals will not occur. A good adjustment involves acceptance of the standards of normals and willingness to underplay the significance of one's difference, while at the same time voluntarily staying away from situations in which normals would find it difficult to demonstrate acceptance (S, p. 121). The good-adjustment line garners a "phantom acceptance" for the stigmatized (5, p. 122). But, more impor­ tantly, it protects the world of normals from challenge.
Goffman's Social Theory

It means that the unfairness and pain of having to carry a stigma will never be presented to them; it means that normals will not have to admit to them­ selves how limited their tactfulness and tolerance is; and it means that normals can remain relatively uncontaminated by intimate contact with the stigma­ tized, relatively unthreatened in their identity beliefs.
(Stigma, 1963, p. 121)

Asylums and Stigma may be read as an analysis of the hopeless plight of inmates, the stigmatized, and persons otherwise suffering abnormal constraints and deprived of basic social resources. Yet, even as Goffman's major purpose in Asylums and Stigma is to demonstrate the self s entangle­ ment with institutionally based supports and constraints, at the same time he suggests that certain resistant stances are available to even the most marginalized members of society. As Goffman puts it in "The Underlife of a Public Institution," another essay in Asylums, a certain recalcitrance to complete social determination is an essential constituent of the self (A, p. 319). Here, he defines self as a "stance-taking entity, a something that takes up a position somewhere between identification with an organization and opposition to it" (A, pp. 319-20). Elsewhere, furthermore, Goffman has made reference to the "selfhood [which] resides in the cracks of the solid buildings of the world" (A, p. 320) and the "naked spasms of the self at the end of the world" ("Where the Action Is" in Interaction Ritual, 1967, pp. 267-70).

The theme of "The Underlife of a Public Institution" is precisely these opposing stances, cracks in institutional arrangements, and resistant elements of the self. He begins the essay by stating that the other side of the commitment and attachment entailed by involvement in a social entity concerns the limits to the claims on the self that may be made by a social entity (A, p. 174). With regard to the claims of any social entity, an indi­ vidual may adopt one of the following extreme stances:

He can openly default his obligations, separate himself from what he has been tied to, and brazen out the redefining looks that people give him. He can reject the bond's implication for his conception of himself but prevent this alienation from being apparent in any of his actions. He can privately embrace the self-implications of his involvement, being to himself what the others who are involved feel he ought to be.

(Asylums, 1961, p. 175)

Individuals rarely, however, adopt one of these extreme positions. Usually, individuals adopt a middle position. People avoid complete self-identifica­ tion with their affiliation, allow some disaffection to be seen, while at the same time fulfilling major obligations (A, p. 174). It is through this dialectic
Goffman's Social Theory lxi

of identification and distancing that the identity of a participant in a social organization is defined (A, p. 180). Individuals adopt what Goffman calls a "primary adjustment" to an organization when they identify widi and coop­ erate with the goals of a social organization "he becomes the 'normal', 'programmed', or built-in member" (A, p. 189). "Secondary adjustments," on the other hand, "represent ways in which the individual stands apart from the role and the self that were taken for granted for him by the institution" (A, p. 189). Although daey represent the individual's preservation of a self independent of any particular social institution, secondary adjustments typi­ cally "arise in connection with the individual's bondage to other types of social entity" (A, p. 197). Goffman refers to the distancing practices sustained in connection with a group of others as "the underlife of an insti­ tution" (A, p. 199). In the context of the mental hospital, the underlife of the institution consists of adjustments patients make using resources of the institution officially designed for other purposes to re-establish territo­ ries of the self, spheres of autonomy, separate social structures, and separate systems of status (A, pp. 201-3). A richly developed underlife is bred by conditions of extreme poverty—as in the mental institution which denies patients the basic tools for building a life. Yet, Goffman believes that the process which is accentuated in the total institution is a more extreme version of a theme intrinsic to all social establishments.

Whenever we look at a social establishment, we find a counter to this first theme: we find that participants decline in some way to accept the official view of what they should be putting into and getting out of the organization and, behind this, of what sort of self and world they are to accept for them­ selves. . . . We find a multitude of homely little histories, each in its way a movement of liberty. Whenever worlds are laid on, underlives develop.

(Asylums, 1961, p. 305)
This practice of reserving something of oneself from the clutch of an insti­ tution, Goffman argues, is not an incidental mechanism of defense but an essential constituent of the self (A, p. 316). Hence, Goffman's definition of the self as "a stance-taking entity, a something that takes up a position some­ where between identification with an organization and opposition to it" (A, p. 320).

The underworld-self that is fashioned in and through these secondary adjustments, however, isn't exactly a self—or at least not an officially recog­ nized one. Paradoxically, it seems that the sort of self-preservation Goffman considers to be an essential constituent of the self is achieved precisely by surrendering attachment to the self. Goffman's analyses in Asylums and Stigma suggest that attachment to self can be itself a source of mortification for individuals confined within oppressive institutions and/or less than

lxii Goffman's Social Theory

favorably defined according to the standards of normals. The mental patient learns that he has little capacity to sustain solid claims about himself; he learns "that a defensible picture of self can be seen as something outside oneself that can be constructed, lost, and rebuilt, all with great speed and some equanimity" ("The Moral Career of the Mental Patient" in A, p. 165). Moral commitment to a vision of self, which can be so easily and regularly built up and destroyed, is thus not very practical. He concludes "The Moral Career of the Mental Patient" with a strategy by which individuals can combat this mortification by an alienating institutional environment—"moral loosening" from attachment to self.' According to Goffman, the mental patient learns to adopt a separate identity from the one that the hospital can give and take away (A, p. 165). The patient comes to be apathetic towards the moral game of defending the self, to treat the matter of selfhood with indifference. He treats the self not as "a fortress, but rather a small open city" and becomes "weary of having to show displeasure when held by the enemy." He learns that society does not define nor allow him the conditions for sustaining a viable self, and with this knowledge the threat that attaches people to self is weakened {A, p. 165).

The moral career of the mental patient has unique interest, however; it can illustrate the possibility that in casting off the raiments of the old self-—or in having this cover torn away—the person need not seek a new robe and a new audience before which to cower. Instead he can learn, at least for a time, to practice before all groups the amoral arts of shamelessness.

{Asylums, 1961, p. 169)

Perhaps Goffman was merely describing in these passages the institutional conquest of human dignity and the resultant psychic withdrawal, as he is generally read.2 On the other hand, perhaps Goffman was illuminating a viable strategy for anyone who would like to break the grip of a constraining institution or society. To remain firmly attached to self is to engage the ritual order on its own grounds, grounds on which gains are rarely made by those not already endowed with societally valued attributes. Rather than repre­ senting merely a description of the attitude that the inmate of a psychiatric institution learns to take toward his institutionally defined moral failure, perhaps it could also represent a strategy of resistance for all human beings whose selves are inevitably doomed to failure according to the standards of societally defined universal humanity. The elements of the strategy, as revealed by the previously-quoted passages, are: (1) the adoption of a stand­ point outside the moral field defined by "normals"; (2) apathy towards the self-image management techniques and interaction rituals effectively carried out by the socially powerful; and (3) disinvestment in self.
Whether or not Goffman meant to imply an extension of the mental

Goffman's Social Theory lxiii

patient's anti-self stance beyond the domain of the extreme mortifying conditions of the total institution is certainly questionable, and the viability of an anti-self stance as an effective human response to mortifying social conditions might also be debated. Yet, Goffman's theory of the self as social product, taken as a whole, surely does challenge us to consider our moral relation to self and to recognize the resources on which it depends. We have seen two main components of Goffman's ideas concerning the production of self: first, that the self is a product of performances in social life; secondly, that the self that an individual is able to perform and have accepted by others is in large part determined by the social status and resources to which an individual has access.

A third aspect of Goffman's thinking about self, however, is inseparable from his analysis of social life. The self, as Goffman portrays it, is simulta­ neously a product of dramatic performance, an object of social ritual, and a field of strategic gamesmanship—in other words, a focal point for each of Goffman's three major metaphors for describing social life. The interplay of these three metaphors can clearly be seen in Goffman's theory of the self. The self is a product of performances staged in social life, and most of the time these performances are constrained by the ritual order of social life. It is through our attachment to self that we are attached to society. We main­ tain face by following social norms, showing deference for and affirming the dignity of others, and presenting ourselves in accordance with our own places in the status hierarchy. The main function of "face-work"—interac­ tional work oriented towards affirming and protecting the dignity of social participants—is to maintain the ritual order of social life. Yet, even though conservatism is the rule and the maintenance of social order the primary goal, Goffman does assume a human propensity to maximize social esteem and suggests that we make game-like calculations to determine when and where to make face-gaining maneuvers. Our conservatism with respect to the status quo can, in large part, be explained by our strategic determina­ tions that we stand to lose more than we might gain by engaging in face-gaining maneuvers. The interrelation of each of the metaphors uses to describe social life is perhaps most apparent in Goffman's theory of the self, although it is also evident in Goffman's more general analysis of social life.

The Nature of Social Life: Drama, Ritual, and Game

Goffman uses three metaphors for viewing social life: drama, ritual, and game. Interpretations of Goffman tend to vary according to relative emphasis on the ritual or the game metaphor. Readers who emphasize Goffman's ritual metaphor argue that he was primarily concerned with the

Ixiv Goffman's Social Theory

maintenance of morality and social order, while those who emphasize the game metaphor see in Goffman's analyses of social life a world of perpetual one-upmanship and manipulative con-artistry. Goffman's drama metaphor seems to be amenable to both readings and is interpreted according to whether the reader sees Goffman's conception of social life as moral or manipulative. Evidence exists to support both readings. Goffman's emphasis on the strategic planning of performances, the game-like calcula­ tions underlying decisions about whether to risk loss of face in an attempt to gain face in social situations, and the control and manipulation of infor­ mation in attempts to gain the upper hand in competitive interactions certainly suggest that Goffman sees manipulative aspects of social life. On the other hand, Goffman presents a view of social life as a realm in which morality is affirmed by means of everyday-life interaction rituals. Our perfor­ mances in social life are not, according to this view, primarily oriented to personal gain but rather to affirmation of respect for the social order. Although the images might seem contradictory, Goffman describes social life in a way that reveals the interplay of manipulation and morality. The following presentation of Goffman's metaphors of social life will demon­ strate this interplay within each of the three metaphors.

Social life as drama
In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Goffman employs the model of theatrical performance, or the dramaturgical perspective, to study the organization of social life (PS, p. xi). Goffman assumes that individuals inevitably have a variety of interests in attempting to control the impression others receive of their actions in social situations (PS, p. 4). As any single social encounter can never contain enough direct evidence to support the guiding definition of the situation, the smooth flow of social life depends upon participants accepting the impressions others attempt to convey concerning their identities and the meaning of their actions (PS, p. 3).

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is concerned with the techniques by which such impressions are conveyed (PS, p. 15). The book outlines six dramaturgical principles: performances, teams, regions, discrepant roles, communication out of character, and impression management. Performance entails individuals' attempt to impress upon others and often themselves that their character is what they claim, that actions mean what is intended, and that the definition of the situation is what is implicitly claimed (PS, p. 17). Goffman defines performance as "the activity of an indi­ vidual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers" (PS, p. 22). Components of the performance include the front,

Goffman's Social Theory Ixv

dramatic realization, idealization, expressive control, misrepresentation, and mystification. The front is the equipment, including physical props of the social setting as well as personal expressive equipment such as rank, clothing, sex, or age, that functions to define the performance for observers (PS, pp. 22-4). Dramatic realization is the process whereby individuals infuse their activity during a particular interaction with signs to convey facts that otherwise might remain obscure (PS, p. 30). Idealization is the tendency of actors to present idealized impressions for their audience (PS, p. 35), involving forgoing or concealing action inconsistent with the idealized stan­ dards (PS, p. 40). The capacity for idealization is enhanced by audience segregation (PS, p. 49). Performers rely on expressive control to keep incon­ sistent moods and energies from disrupting the performance. As Goffman puts it, "A certain bureaucratization of the spirit is expected so that we can be relied upon to give a perfectly homogenous performance at every appointed time" (PS, p. 56). Because orientation to situations requires acceptance of performed cues, few of which are invulnerable to misuse, misrepresentation is a possibility (PS, p. 58). Goffman points out, however, that the distinction between a true and a false performance concerns not the actual performance as much as it does whether or not the performer is autho­ rized to give the performance in question (PS, p. 59). Finally, mystification involves the maintenance of a social distance which holds the audience in a state of awe in regard to the performer (PS, p. 67).

Rarely is it the case that a performance is concerned solely with the presen­ tation of an individual's character, but rather performances commonly involve cooperation of a team which works together to express the charac­ teristics of a social situation (PS, p. 77). Performances often depend upon the segregation of social space into "front regions" and "back regions." The front region is the place where the performance is given and standards main­ tained (PS, p. 107); the hack region is the place "where the impression fostered by the performance is knowingly contradicted as a matter of course" (PS, p. 112). "Discrepant roles," on the other hand, pose a problem to the maintenance of the credibility of the performance (PS, p. 141), as when the same individual occupies roles which place him or her in the audience in one instance and in the performers' back region in the other. "Communication out of character" involves the expression of sentiments which are discrepant with the official performance (PS, p. 169). Most frequendy, communication out of character occurs backstage among team­ mates; treatment of the absent, staging talk, and team collusion are examples of such. In the case of "realigning actions," however, communication-out- of-character occurs between performers and audience. Realigning actions are unofficial communications used to shift the official working consensus of the interaction (PS, p. 190).

In order to prevent embarrassment and disruption in social interaction,

lxvi Goffman's Social Theory

participants are required to possess certain attributes and engage in certain practices. Goffman categorizes these "arts of impression management" under three headings: defensive attributes and practices, protective prac­ tices, and "tact regarding tact." Goffman outlines three types of defensive practices. First, in order to successfully defend their own show, performers must exhibit "dramaturgical loyalty" among themselves. That is, they must adhere to the moral obligation of protecting the secrets of their team (PS, p. 212). Secondly, they must maintain "dramaturgical discipline," avoiding becoming so carried away by the show that they forget to attend to the tech­ niques of staging a successful performance (PS, p. 216). Third, it is useful if team members are "dramaturgically circumspect"; that is, if they "exer­ cise foresight and design in determining in advance how best to stage a show" (PS, p. 218). 

These defensive practices have their counterpart in certain protective practices of the audience (PS, p. 229). The audience voluntarily avoids the secret areas of the performers (PS, p. 229), tactfully avoids introducing contradictions to the performance (PS, p. 231), and pretends to "not see" flaws (PS, p. 231). Finally, the performer must exer­ cise "tact regarding tact." In other words, the performer must tactfully respond to the tact of the audience—by reading the hints and modifying the performance (PS, p. 234).

Goffman is wary of pushing the dramaturgical model of social life too far. In the theater, performances are consciously planned and intended to be received as make-believe. The actions, responses, and modes of self-presen­ tation of individuals in real life, on the other hand, are thought to be unconscious, genuine, and closely tied to reality. Goffman admits that "all the world is not, of course, a stage" (PS, p. 72). But then he adds, "but the crucial ways in which it isn't are not easy to specify" (PS, p. 72). Ultimately, Goffman debunks the distinction between reality and contrivance.

We tend to see real performances as something not purposely put together at all, being an unintentional product of the individual's unselfconscious response to the facts in his situation. And contrived performances we tend to see as something painstakingly pasted together, one false item on another, since there is no reality to which the items of behavior could be a direct response. It will be necessary to see now that these dichotomous conceptions are by way of being the ideology of honest performers, providing a strength to the show they put on, but a poor analysis of it.
(The Presentation of Self, 1959, p. 70)

A person's status or self or character cannot be distinguished from the performance. "To be a given kind of person, then, is not merely to possess the required attributes, but also to sustain the standards of conduct and appearance that one's social grouping attaches thereto" (PS, p. 75). It is the

Goffman's Social Theory lxvii

success of the performance, that is its credibility to oneself and to others, that leads the audience and the performer to impute a self to a performed character (PS, p. 252). The self, in other words, is a product of performance rather than a cause of it (PS, p. 253).

In employing the dramaturgical metaphor, Goffman does not intend to characterize social life as a realm of manipulative play-acting in which morality plays no role. In fact, Goffman does not hold manipulation and morality in opposition at all. As social beings, Goffman points out, individuals are concerned with living up to the many moral standards of the social world. But, as performers, they are "concerned not with the moral issue of realizing these standards, but with the amoral issue of engin­ eering a convincing impression that these standards are being realized" (PS, p. 251).
Social life as ritual

That Goffman does not oppose manipulation and morality in his depictions of social life can be seen by examining the relationship between his "strategic game" and "ritual" metaphors of social life. Goffman's analyses of interac­ tion can be divided into one or the other category, although the oscillation between metaphors that his work sometimes exhibits indicates the inter- penetration of ritualistic and game-like qualities of social life. Those works in which ritual analysis predominates include "On Face-work" (1955), "The Nature of Deference and Demeanor" (1956), "Embarrassment and Social Organization" (1956), "Alienation from Interaction" (1957) (all collected in Interaction Ritual), Behavior in Public Places (1963), and Relations in Public (1971). The game metaphor, on the other hand, is the organizing principle in "Fun in Games" (1961) (in Encounters), "Where the Action Is" (in Interaction Ritual) (1967), and Strategic Interaction (1969).

Explicitly drawn connections to Durkheim's ideas about religious ritual and social solidarity are found in "The Nature of Deference and Demeanor" and Relations in Public, and allusions to Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of Religious Life can be seen in nearly all of his early works. He concludes the third section of his dissertation with the remark: "An idol is to a person as a rite is to etiquette" ("Communication Conduct in an Island Community", 1953, p. 104). And he direcdy quotes Durkheim's Sociology and Philosophy in The Presentation of Self in support of his view of the self as an object of ritual care (PS, p. 69). As Goffman suggests in "On Face-work" and The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, the self has become the sacred object of modern interpersonal life that symbols of the social collectivity were in Durkheim's analysis of primitive societies.
The main function of "face-work" is to maintain the ritual order of social

lxviii Gqffman's Social Theory

life. For the most part, an individual's "face" is not something freely cho­ sen but is something accorded by society. Individuals are due respect consistent with their social status. Interaction rituals serve to affirm the "faces" of individuals variously positioned within the status order. The task of individuals is to present themselves in a way that shows acceptance of their social station. Because of the basic rules of self-respect and consider- ateness that operate in social interaction, mutual acceptance of the lines taken in social interaction is a basic structural feature of interaction ("On Face-work" in IR, p. 11).

This argument parallels the one made in "The Nature of Deference and Demeanor." A person conveys social desirability through demeanor, that is through attributes such as discretion, sincerity, modesty, self-control, and poise (IR, p. 77). One key way in which a person expresses demeanor, however, is through the giving and withholding of deference to others. A properly demeaned individual is one who accords deference in congruence with his or her own and others' social station, thus maintaining the ritual order (IR, p. 81). In this essay, the connections to Durkheim are explicitly drawn at beginning and end. He concludes the essay:

Many gods have been done away with, but the individual himself stubbornly remains as a deity of considerable importance. He walks with some dignity and is the recipient of many little offerings. He is jealous of the worship due him, yet, approached in the right spirit, he is ready to forgive those who may have offended him. Because of their status relative to his, some persons will find him contaminating while others will find they contaminate him, in either case finding that they must treat him with ritual care. Perhaps the individual is so viable a god because he can actually understand the ceremonial signifi­ cance of the way he is treated, and quite on his own can respond dramatically to what is proffered him. In contacts between such deities there is no need for middlemen; each of these gods is able to serve as his own priest.

(Interaction Ritual, 1967, p. 95)

A significant portion of social life, then, is devoted to the accordance of proper levels of worship to selves variously positioned in status hierarchies. Not unrelated to the norms that define demeanor and guide allocation of deference are the numerous unspoken social traffic rules that pervade everyday existence yet seem to have little significance either for communi­ cating status or for matters of interpersonal loss or gain at all. Indicating the significance Goffman accords to the maintenance of ritual independently of strategic concerns over gain and loss of status, both Behavior in Public Places (1963) and Relations in Public (1971) are devoted to examining the traffic rules of social life. In both works, Goffman defines "social order" as the ground rules of social life, the conditions and constraints placed on the
Goffman's Social Theory lxix

manner in which activity is carried out and ends are sought but not on the choice of ends (RP, pp. x-xi).

Behavior in Public Places (BPP) outlines the "situational proprieties" of various forms of social interaction, including access, involvement obliga­ tions, attention, and tactful leavetaking. Though situational proprieties may not have any clearly visible instrumental function for the participants, Goffman believes that they function to "give body to the joint social life . . . " (BPP, p. 196). Respect for situational proprieties is essential for providing the social order necessary for peaceful and secure coexistence. Although no individual social situation is representative of the institution in which it is embedded, the behavior of individuals in social situations does say something about their regard for broader units of social life (BPP, p. 220). Situational improprieties, for instance, may serve to express alien­ ation from a class, community, social establishment, or institution (BPP, p. 223).

Relations in Public examines the social routines and practices—territories of the self, supportive interchanges, remedial interchanges, tie-signs, and normal appearances—used to maintain social order. A central component of social organization involves the claims that individuals make to personal and public spaces, possessions, information, and conversation (RP, pp. 28-41). Each of these forms of territoriality, Goffman points out, is socially determined; that is, the size of and control of territories of the self depends upon social rank (RP, pp. 40—41). Individuals affirm social order by marking out their own territories and respecting those of others in a manner consis­ tent with respective social rank. Supportive interchanges are "interpersonal rituals" which "affirm and support the social relationship between doer and recipient" (RP, p. 63). Remedial interchanges are interpersonal practices, such as accounts or apologies, which attempt to rectify an offense to a social relationship (RP, p. 109). Tie-signs, such as handholding, are signs that indicate the nature of relationships between persons (RP, p. 194). Finally, a portion of social life is devoted to maintenance of "normal appearances," providing and looking for signs from others that nothing in the world is out of the ordinary and routines may be followed as usual (RP, p. 239). Goffman draws an analogy between Durkheim's analysis of religious ritual and these various interpersonal rituals.

In contemporary society rituals performed to stand-ins for supernatural en­ tities are everywhere in decay, as are extensive ceremonial agendas involving long strings of obligatory rites. What remains are brief rituals one individual performs for and to another, attesting to civility and good will on the performer's part and to the recipient's possession of a small patrimony of sacredness. What remains, in brief, are interpersonal rituals.
(Relations in Public, 1971, p. 63)

lxx Goffman's Social Theory

Although strategy, manipulation, and gamesmanship hardly seem apt words for describing what goes on in these sorts of interpersonal rituals, game-like qualities are never entirely absent from even the most ritualistic realms of social life. Especially in "On Face-work," one can see the interplay of ritual and game-like aspects of social life. On the one side, face is the central object of interpersonal rituals. Protecting, defending, and maintaining the social hierarchy of face is the norm, as opposed to game-like moves and challenges. On the other side, die stability of the ritual order and the attachment of indi­ viduals to their socially allotted faces is a function of game-like considerations. The interpenetration of ritual and game is most clearly apparent when Goffman characterizes the self as "a kind of player in a ritual game . . ." ("On Face-work" in IR, p. 31). Sometimes a person will engage in aggressive face-work practices, attempting to make points by introducing information favorable to himself and unfavorable to others (IR, p. 25). At other times, a person will strategically avoid contacts which might pose a threat to an established and desirable image of self (IR, p. 15). At still other

| times, face-work will be oriented towards correcting assaults and reestab- i lishing the ritual equilibrium of the hierarchy of face (IR, p. 19). Even when no challenges to or transformations of the social hierarchy of face occur, however, game-like considerations are nonetheless in play. In fact, Goffman suggests that strategic calculations are a determining factor in die mainte­ nance of ritual order. It is because individuals determine that more is to be lost man to be gained by challenging the social status quo that most affirm
the ritual order.

Social life is an uncluttered, orderly thing because the person voluntarily stays away from the places and topics and times where he is not wanted and where he might be disparaged for going. He cooperates to save his face, finding that there is much to be gained from venturing nothing.

(Interaction Ritual, 1967, p. 43) Social life as game

The interpenetration of ritualistic and game-like qualities of social life can likewise be seen when Goffman shifts to a focus on the game metaphor in "Fun in Games" (1961) (in Encounters), "Where the Action Is" (1967) (in Interaction Ritual), and Strategic Interaction (1970). Goffman's express inten­ tion in "Fun in Games," in fact, is to analyze fun and games in a way that sheds light on interaction in general (E, p. 17). Games are not so different from social encounters in general. Both involve rules as to what aspects of the situation, events, the material environment, and the attributes of indi­ viduals should be considered relevant and meaningful. Games and serious activities alike are "world-building activities" (E, p. 27). The parallel

Goffman's Social Theory Ixxi

between games and the more serious activities of maintenance of ritual order is revealed most poignantly in the concluding section to this essay in which Goffman examines the conditions that promote fun or easeful interaction (E, p. 66). Goffman identifies two conditions which generate engrossment among participants in games: first, problematic outcome; secondly, oppor­ tunities to exhibit attributes valued in the wider social world (E, p. 68). From one angle, problematic outcome seems not to be a prevalent condition of the ritual procession of social life. Rather than being a forum for competition and display, informal social participation could be seen to be a forum for "ultimate validation of relationships of intimacy and equality" (E, p. 78). Goffman suggests, however, that the conditions of vital social encounters are not that different from the conditions of a fun game. Sociable gatherings depend upon a certain level of status endogamy to ensure the provision of ceremonial affirmation of externally based status characteristics. Too much status inequality among participants would require the sacrifice of either intimacy or proper sacralization. On the other hand, too little difference among participants makes social encounters boring. As in games, engross­ ment in social encounters depends upon a certain degree of problematic outcome. The vitality of social relationships depends upon enough social difference as to permit at least a little loss or gain.

A dissolution of some externally based social distance must be achieved, a penetration of ego-boundaries, but not to an extent that renders the partici­ pants fearful, threatened, or self-consciously concerned with what is happening socially. Too much potential loss and gain must be guarded against, as well as too little.
{Encounters, 1961, p. 79)

Even though practices oriented towards maintenance of the ritual order may predominate in the everyday existence of most people most of the time, the excitement and adventure of social life often derives from realms which involve a level of risk and invite gamesmanship. "Where the Action Is" (1967) defines "action" as activity that involves fatefulness. Fateful activity is "activity that is both problematic and consequential" (in IR, p. 164). Although social life is orchestrated such as to minimize fatefulness, the "human condition is such that some degree of fatefulness will always be found" (IR, p. 164). The maintenance of the ceremonial order that indi­ viduals are pledged to uphold by means of interpersonal rituals is never quite as unproblematic as it might appear (IR, pp. 168-9). Character is inevitably gambled in any interpersonal interaction (IR, p. 217). On the one side, char­ acter refers to the capacity to maintain composure and self-sameness in the face of challenge (IR, p. 217). On the other side, however, character is something that can be gained by putting oneself on the line and making a

lxxii Goffman's Social Theory

good showing (IR, p. 237). Character and die ritual order of which it is part are renewed only in moments of fatefulness (IR, p. 239). The establishment of the boundaries of the ritual order, indeed, occurs by means of a special kind of moral game—"character contests" (IR, p. 240).

Character contests are interpersonal disputes over whose status claims and conception of proper treatment of self and others will be allowed to prevail (IR, p. 241). On the one hand, character contests often pose litde threat to the interactional status quo, as immaturity is attributed to the aggressor and character to the one who refuses to be drawn into a fray of honor (IR, p. 253). For the most part, people try to avoid chance-taking widi regard to their characters (p. 260). On the other, however, "there is some ambivalence about safe and momendess living" (IR, p. 260). There are certain prized attributes that can not be expressed or affirmed without expo­ sure to fatefulness. To create a forum for affirmation of these, individuals must engage in fateful action (IR, p. 261). Goffman suggests that such fateful action is outside the normal round of social life, but that our moral fantasies impute honor to this activity (IR, p. 267). "These naked litde spasms of the self occur at the end of the world, but there at the end is action and character" (IR, p. 270).

Taking the condition of mutual fatefulness as its starting point, Strategic Interaction [SI] (1969) analyzes the structure and strategies of interaction so oriented. "Expression Games" outlines the structure of interactions contin­ gent upon the control of information (SI, p. 4). The more that is at stake in the interaction, the greater the possibility of deception (SI, pp. 68-9). Expression games involve an observer with an interest in gaining informa­ tion from a subject and a subject with an interest in controlling the information the observer may glean. The subject makes moves—some unwitting and others intentionally designed to be observed—while the observer attempts to discern the reality behind the observations (SI, pp.

11-20). The possibility of faking and of faking of faking on the part of the subject leaves the observer in a state of uncertainty as to the reality of the subject's moves, as the possibility that the observer may penetrate the subject's show leaves the subject in a state of uncertainty as to how his moves are being interpreted by the observer. The distinction between the observer and subject roles, however, breaks down under conditions of mutual suspicion. As the observer attempts to penetrate the subject's show, the subject is concerned to discern the observer's trust and reading of moves. "Each seeker is therefore doubly a concealer, and each concealer is doubly a seeker" (SI, p. 72). Goffman suggests that expression games are a part of almost every social situation.

In every social situation we can find a sense in which one participant will be an observer with something to gain from assessing expressions, and another

Goffman's Social Theory lxxiii
will be a subject with something to gain from manipulating this process. A single structure of contingencies can be found in this regard which renders agents a little like us all and all of us a little like agents.

{Strategic Interaction, 1969, p. 81)

"Strategic interaction" differs from expression games in that it involves not merely manipulation of information but also assessment of courses of action (SI, p. 145). The essay "Strategic Interaction" outlines the matters players must consider in planning rational action. These include: (1) the opponent's moves; (2) the operational code, or orientation to "gaming that influences how the players play; (3) the opponent's resolve to proceed with the game at whatever cost; (4) the information state, or knowledge that the opponent may possess about his own and the other's situation; (5) the oppo­ nent's resources or capacities; (6) the players' attributes; (7) the gameworthiness of the players; and (8) the players' integrity, or commitment to continued loyalty to the party's interests once play has begun (SI, pp. 95-7). Strategic interaction is a mutual assessment in which opponents attempt to chart their own best course of action on the basis of an enumer­ ation of the opponent's possibilities of action (SI, p. 100) and "in light of one's thoughts about the others' thoughts about oneself (SI, p. 101). The contribution of the concept of strategic interaction, as Goffman sees it, is that it moves beyond symbolic interactionism's limited focus on communi­ cation by analyzing interactions involving mutual fatefulness, awareness of interdependence of outcomes, and the capacity to structure action on the basis of a calculative assessment of the other's possible moves and consid­ erations (SI, pp. 136-7).

Clearly, Goffman's ritual and game metaphors diverge widely in certain of his works. "The Nature of Deference and Demeanor" is probably the most pure source of his ritual analysis, while there are hardly any hints of Goffman's ritual metaphor in Strategic Interaction. Yet, it is important to see that the metaphors are not contradictory, as the amenability of the drama metaphor to either reading indicates. A performance is simultaneously an expression of deference to the social order as well as a move in a strategic game, according to Goffman. We strategically chart our performances and courses of action and interaction, often with an aim of being a viable member of a morally cohesive social order. On the one side, the performance of morality requires strategy. On the other side, the ritual order constrains our performances and strategic moves.

lxxiv Goffman's Social Theory
Frames and the Organization of Experience

Goffman's later work shifts from a more concrete analysis of the self-society relation to a seemingly more abstract analysis of the principles that organize our experience. Though different from his earlier work, however, his analysis of frames (especially in Frame Analysis [FA], 1974) adds an important dimension to his social theory that is certainly important for thinking about self and society.

Goffman's later work emphasizes that social experience is organized by frames, which he defines as principles of organization which govern the subjective meaning we assign to social events (FA, p. 11). For example, we might frame an activity as a hobby or an occupation. The way we and others relate to the activity depends on the way it is framed. Goffman does not believe that individual participants in social encounters create the frames that determine the meaning of their experience (FA, p. 1), nor does he accord frames a constitutive function relative to social structure and social organization (FA, p. 13). He does, however, think that definitions of situa­ tions and, generally, human subjective experience are built up in accordance with frames (FA, p. 10). Thus, even though he does not claim to explain the organization of society on the basis of frame, he considers frame analysis essential to understanding the organization of experience (FA, p. 13).

The greater part of Frame Analysis is devoted to defining and outlining the principles by which experience is subjectively organized. These principles include: primary frameworks, keys and keyings, and designs and fabrica­ tions. For instance, events may be interpreted according to one of two primary frameworks, natural or social. Events interpreted according to natural frameworks are perceived as unguided and not subject to moral judg­ ment. Actions interpreted according to social frameworks, on the other hand, are described as "guided doings" and are subject to social appraisals (FA, p. 22). An earthquake, for instance, is explained by a natural frame­ work, while an interpersonal dispute is interpreted according to a social framework. The "key" transforms the meaning of an activity from what it literally appears to be to something else (FA, pp. 43-4). For instance, an utterance may be taken as a genuine expression of a person's thoughts and feelings or it may be "keyed" as sarcasm. A design or a fabrication is an "intentional effort of one or more individuals to manage activity so that a party of one or more others will be induced to have a false belief about what it is that is going on" (FA, p. 83). Unlike keyings which are presumably understood as such by the participants, fabrications are intended to induce a false sense of reality and are subject to discrediting (FA, pp. 84-5).
Goffman suggests that frames are often simply functional. In general, indi-

Goffman's Social Theory lxxv

viduals can be guided by frames and find diat the ongoing world supports their interpretations because framed activity is anchored in some way or another in the everyday unstaged world (FA, pp. 247-8). The framing of an activity as work, for example, may be anchored in the reality of the pay received or any number of other background factors that function to d;£tin- guish work from play. Goffman notes, however, that frames are often not very tighdy anchored to any objective reality. The framing of experience is usually anchored by layers of other frames. For instance, the framing of an interaction between two individuals as a superordinate-subordinate inter­ action is anchored in the respective positions of the persons within an organization. Yet, the meaning of the positions themselves depend on layers of social meanings.
Chapter 8 of Frame Analysis considers the question of how framed activity is anchored in ongoing reality (FA, p. 250), or, in William James's words, the question: "Under what circumstances do we think diings real?" (FA, p. 250). The anchoring of activity in the ongoing world, according to Goffman, allows us to generate a sense of reality but does not render activity unframed and invulnerable to misconstruction. Indeed, Goffman suggests that the significance of frames for anchoring social life and the vulnerability to which they expose us are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, Goffman states that he assumes that our interpretative frameworks are more or less adequate (FA, p. 440). Even though every individual faces various ambigu­ ities and possibilities of error and deception with regard to frames, it is presumed that these troubles can be resolved fairly easily. Errors are gener­ ally short-lived, because action on the basis of an erroneous framework will generally create contradictions within a complexly interconnected social realm which lead the individual to detect the error (FA, p. 321). On the other hand, Goffman says that the very sources we use to generate certitude are typically left unanalyzed and thus may easily be the sources of our deception (FA, p. 444).

The delicate issue, it seems, is that in certain matters, often socially important ones, no very effective check may be available in the society regarding the validity or invalidity of a framework. A specific belief may not be crucial and a specific confrontation of competing frames of reference not possible. Or there may be little interest in pressing such alternative accountings as exist, or little attention paid to such as are presented.

(Frame Analysis, 1974, p. 200)
The anchoring of frames is especially loose when we are framing informal interpersonal experience and defining people. Goffman points out, in contradiction to the common sense view that intimate relations afford deeper access to the "truth" of the person than do formal relations, that

lxxvi Goffman's Social Theory

"formal relations might be less subject to the play of doubts than are inti­ mate ones" (FA, p. 458). Informal social relations are more subject to the contingencies of subjective framing because there is not formal institutional apparatus to constrain the way individuals frame themselves, others, and the social situation.

Judgments of character are particularly subject to framing because self is not a stable substance. Not only are our selves a product of performances, but our actions and performances do not always speak for themselves. A self is not simply a product of performance, but is a product of the framing of a person's actions and performances. When we are operating at the level of informal social relations and are concerned to make judgments of moral character, framing is especially consequential because the framing is least anchored to any hard reality. Thus, there is no unambiguous way to check the accuracy of a judgment as to the character of another human being, and no fail-safe way for a judged person to combat an ill-fitting frame.

Why should this be a problem, if it is simply the inevitable nature of die self and social life? As long as people are able to communicate openly with one another regarding the fit of the interpretative frames they apply to social experience, to themselves, and others, frames should supply a helpful and mutually acceptable orientation to social life. Yet, Goffman suggests that die selection of frames does not proceed so democratically. Goffman argues that social power is a condition of persistent misframing. People with little social power have little power to frame events or to combat interpretive frame­ works applied to them. A person judged to be incompetent, for example, carries no weight in combating the judgment. The protests can be discounted, taken as evidence of incompetence (FA, p. 445). This vulnera­ bility of informal social life makes it possible for individuals to be contained in what Goffman calls a "frame trap."

When an individual is misunderstood and others misframe his words and actions, he is likely to provide a corrective account. In this way matters get straight. So, too, when an individual errs for other reasons in defining the world, contrary evidence is likely soon to appear. . . . What I want to suggest here is that the world can be arranged (whether by intent or default) so that incorrect views, however induced, are confirmed by each bit of new evidence or each effort to correct matters, so that, indeed, the individual finds that he is trapped and nothing can get through.

{Frame Analysis, 1974, p. 480)
Indeed, everyday conduct tends in the same direction: routinely, the char­ acter we impute to another allows us to discount his criticisms and other professions of belief, transforming these expressions into "what can only be expected" of someone of that character. Thus are interpretative vocabular-

Goffman's Social Theory lxxvii

ies self-sealing. In these cases, truly, we deal with the myth of the girl who spoke toads; every account releases a further example of what it tries to explain away.

(Ibid., p. 482)
Although the notion of being "framed" implies the existence of a reality behind the misconstruction, Goffman suggests that there is no original behind the frame. A sincere person, for instance, is not one who expresses his or her true inner reality, but rather one who acts "in such a way as to convince others that the apparent frame is in fact the actual one" (FA, p. 487). Goffman argues that the reality against which we impute unreality is itself a construction (FA, p. 560). It might even be said that Goffman views the social world itself as the context of a very complex and encompassing frame trap that defines the identities and experiences of all participants - only, a frame trap that is not taken as such.

The frame analysis of talk

A portion of social life is oriented towards the pursuit of concrete goals within the context of structured social organizations and resilient physical environments. Within such realms, the framing of experience is constrained by more or less hard realities. Interpretative license is limited. A greater proportion of social life—more or less significant, depending on a person's view of life—is, however, informal and not explicitly oriented towards concrete social projects. Intimate interpersonal bonds as well as many other forms of informal social relationships are developed and maintained primarily out of informal talk. When people engage in informal talk, they are less often trying to stir others towards action in a collective project as they are trying to gain appreciation of themselves and their experiences (FA, p. 503). As Goffman sees it, informal talk is inherently dramatic in nature. Generally, it consists of a dramatic recounting of a person's life experiences and self, with the teller granted an extensive license to select and interpret as he or she sees fit. As was suggested above, informal talk is less firmly anchored than formal social relations to the ongoing world. For this reason, informal talk is more vulnerable than other types of experience to the manipulations of frame. Thus, frame analysis is especially apt with regard to informal talk.

The essays collected in Forms of Talk are an extension and application of tie ideas put forth in Frame Analysis, especially in the chapter "The Frame Analysis of Talk." The essays illustrate three main points: first, that talk is governed by social rules and common understandings; secondly, that talk is always a form of social interaction; and thirdly, that talk is a loosely

lxxviii Goffman's Social Theory

anchored performance aimed at establishing the alignment of a participant in social interaction.
The first point, that talk is governed by social rules and common under­ standings that go beyond and sometimes even conflict with linguistic norms, is one that he had made many years before in the short essay "The Neglected Situation" (1964, p. 136) and which he elaborated in a subsequently published essay, "Felicity's Condition" (1983). In this essay, Goffman argues that meaningful and felicitous talk depends on common under­ standing and shared presuppositions derived not only from prior utterances but also from a stock of shared social knowledge. "Felicity's Condition," as Goffman defines it, is "any arrangement which leads us to judge an indi­ vidual's verbal acts to be not a manifestation of strangeness" ("FC," p. 27). Noting that there is nothing new to the argument that meaningful spoken interaction depends upon appropriate drawing from an array of presuppo­ sitions, Goffman argues that detailed analysis of the taken-for-granted is something that has yet to be undertaken by sociologists. While linguists have illuminated the formal presuppositions of utterances, social presuppositions of talk—e.g., about who can speak to whom in what circumstances—have yet to be examined ("FC," p. 48).

A similar point is made in "Replies and Responses," the first essay collected in Forms of Talk [FT] (1981). Here, Goffman argues that under­ standing spoken interaction in terms of the constraints of a communication system is inadequate. Not only is spoken interaction directed towards linguistic system constraints, but it is also constrained by social norms concerning how to handle oneself with respect to others (FT, p. 16). Sometimes, such ritual constraints are closely tied to linguistic system constraints. For instance, saving one's face is accomplished by preserving orderly communication (FT, p. 19). Goffman's main point in this essay, however, is that ritual constraints do not always reinforce linguistic system constraints. Often, the social context can call for certain forms of spoken interaction that do not correspond to the formal rules and dialogic struc­ tures of communication systems (FT, p. 25). Furthermore, there are certain utterances—those which Goffman calls "response cries" in his second essay in Forms of Talk—which do not qualify as conventionally directed talk and which can be understood only by reference to the social situation outside states of talk (FT, p. 122).

The second and third ideas, that talk is always a form of social interaction and that it is a loosely anchored performance aimed at establishing the align­ ment of a person in a social interaction, runs through each of the essays in Forms of Talk but is especially emphasized in "Response Cries." Goffman demonstrates this by considering forms of talk and utterances not generally understood to be intended for public consumption—self-talk and response cries. Self-talk is typically thought to be a breach of civility. The general rule

Goffman's Social Theory lxxix

is "no talking in public." Goffman points out, however, that there are excep­ tions to the rule that indicate that self-talk is as much a form of social interaction as are more explicitly directed statements. One important way in which self-talk functions as a form of social interaction is when an indi­ vidual employs it to reestablish moral character or self-respect. Faced with the embarrassment of appearing foolish, a person might engage in self-talk to let others know what he had intended and/or that he is himself impressed with his apparent foolishness. Goffman generalizes that self-talk frequently arises out of the need to reestablish ourselves as honest, competent persons, and that it serves to indicate to others that we are alive to the demands of the social situation even if we momentarily slip (FT, p. 96). Curse words serve a similar function. Often thought to be an unconscious, emotional reaction to unfortunate events, Goffman believes that curse words are rarely uttered except in the presence of others because their function is primarily social (FT, p. 97). Like curse words, "response cries"—non-words used in response to various dramatic moments in life—are not mere emotional over­ flowings but rather display evidence of the alignment we take toward social events (FT, pp. 100-1). A person who utters a revulsion sound ("Eeuw!") during a moment of contact with a defiling substance, for instance, demon­ strates vocally what she cannot express in action—distance from the degradation associated with contamination by the defiling substance (FT, p.

104). By means of talk, response cries, and nonverbal modes of communi­ cation, we are able to establish our relationship to social events and to our utterances. That such framing of events and utterances occurs routinely and profoundly influences the meaning of these events and utterances is, according to Goffman, a fact that must be taken seriously by both sociolo­ gists and linguists. Neither the objective study of social events nor the study of the formal structure of utterances, Goffman argues, can capture the meanings that we establish in these various informal ways (FT, p. 147). The remaining essays in Forms of Talk—"Footing," "The Lecture," and "Radio Talk"—provide additional illustration of these points.

The framing of gender

Another application of frame analysis can be found in Goffman's analysis of gender in "The Arrangement Between the Sexes" (ABS) and Gender Advertisements (GA). Differences between men and women are often thought to be a direct outcome of biological sex differences, a product of differential social structural opportunities, or some combination of both. Although Goffman acknowledges the limited impact of biological con­ straints and certainly does not deny the significance of social structure, his own approach is to look at how the frames that organize social interaction

lxxx Goffman's Social Theory

produce the meaning of gender. Rather than providing the forum for the expression of natural differences, he argues that the organization of inter­ action itself produces the differences between the sexes (ABS, p. 324).
One of the key ways in which gender is given its significance in society is by means of the process of institutional reflexivity. Institutional reflex- ivity is the process whereby die social environment is organized in such a way as to make whatever natural sex differences there are significant (ABS, p. 313). One example given by Goffman is that of toilet practices. Despite insignificant differences in men's and women's processes of elimination, the segregation of public restrooms is a means whereby differences are reaf­ firmed and reestablished in the face of sexual integration of much of public space (ABS, p. 316). Goffman suggests that one of the basic things that chil­ dren are taught as part of their gender socialization is how to use social situations to express gender (ABS, pp. 324-5).

Gender is given expression in social situations through what Goffman calls "displays." A display provides "evidence of the actor's alignment in a gath­ ering, the position he seems prepared to take up in what is about to happen in the social situation" (GA, 1979, p. 1). Displays "tentatively establish the terms of the contact, the mode or style or formula for the dealings that are to ensue between the persons providing the display and the persons perceiving it" (GA, p. 1). Although gender displays are ordinarily thought to express the respective natures of women and men, Goffman thinks that cultural resources are the primary sources of gender displays (.GA, pp. 3-4). A very significant source of gender displays, according to Goffman, is the parent-child relationship complex (GA, p. 4). In our culture, male-female relations are typically patterned on the model of the parent-child relation­ ship. According to this model, the subordinate receives paternalistic care and protection from some of the harsh realities of social life in exchange for acceptance of the nonperson treatment and violation of privacy and autonomy that go along with a child-like status (GA, pp. 4-5). 

Goffman suggests that the extension of this frame from its original source to that of gender relations indicates that it has little to do with any real human nature of males and females. By contrast, the only human nature of males and females is the "capacity to learn to provide and to read depictions of masculinity and femininity and a willingness to adhere to a schedule for presenting these pictures . . ." (GA, p. 8).

The interaction order

Goffman's analysis of gender points to a theoretical issue that comes up in the introduction to Frame Analysis and which is considered more system­ atically in "The Interaction Order" [IO] (1983)—that is, the relationship

Goffman's Social Theory lxxxi

between interactional frames and social structure. In the introduction to Frame Analysis, Goffman is quick to point out that interactional participants are not at liberty to create the frames that will define their situations. He separates his own analysis from a misreading of the famous dictum of W.I. Thomas: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their conse­ quences." Goffman states that the statement is "true as it reads but false as it is taken" (FA, p. 1). It is taken falsely when, as some theorists have implied, it is assumed that an individual or group of individuals in a social encounter can manufacture reality at will simply by redefining it. On the contrary, frames are given by society and typically predate the social situations in which they are employed {FA, p. 1). Here, Goffman states explicitly that he considers social organization and social structure to be primary relative to the framed experience individuals have in social encounters (FA, p. 13). Yet his more systematic treatment of the issue in "The Interaction Order" indi­ cates that he may have overstated the case in his introduction to Frame Analysis. His main point in "The Interaction Order" is to "make up the case for considering the interaction order as a substantive domain in its own right" (IO, p. 2). He echoes his earlier claim in pointing out that this does not imply considering the relatively autonomous interactional order as prior to or constitutive of macrostructural phenomena and identifies various social structural phenomena which cannot be reduced to an aggregate of particular social encounters (IO, p. 9). Yet, he clarifies his position by indi­ cating that he does not, on the other hand, take macrostructural phenomena to be necessarily prior to or constitutive of the interactional order. In some respects, the interaction order is autonomous relative to social structure. Although he admits socially structured differences in resources and advan­ tages within the interaction order, he argues that the forms and processes of the interaction order are independent of these inequalities—"the central theme remains of a traffic of use, and of arrangements which allow a great diversity of projects and intents to be realized through unthinking recourse to procedural forms" (IO, p. 6).

Not only is the interaction order not necessarily determined by macrostructural processes, but there are features of the interaction order which memselves bear on social structures (IO, p. 8). Goffman gives three examples in which situational effects have direct impact on social structure. First, the dependency of organizations on personnel who partake in a multi­ tude of social situations on and off the job render the organizations themselves vulnerable to the injuries or abductions that individuals suffer in social situations (IO, p. 8). Secondly, agents of social organization can be influenced in face-to-face dealings to act in ways that affect the organization as a whole (IO, p. 8). Thirdly, organizational life depends on "people- processing encounters . . . in which 'impressions' subjects make during the interaction affects their life chances" (IO, p. 8). "It is in these processing

lxxxii Goffman's Social Theory

encounters, then, that the quiet sorting can occur which, as Bourdieu might have it, reproduces die social structure" (IO, p. 8). While die covert values given to structural variables (e.g., class, gender, race, age) are not generated situationally, the actual weighing of attributes occurs in a social situation—a situation which may consolidate or loosen structural arrangements (IO, p. 8).


In the preceding, I have elaborated four of Goffman's main ideas. First, he analyzes many facets of the self-society relation and challenges common diinking about the self with his view of die self as a social product. Secondly, he exposes die link between power, status, performance, and self and provides an implicit critique of die exclusiveness of die world of "normals." Thirdly, in oscillating between three metaphors for describing social life—die drama, ritual, and game metaphors—Goffman demonstrates die inherent interplay between manipulation and morality in social life, chal­ lenging us to recognize the everyday techniques upon which morality is based. Finally, Goffman argues that frames play a powerful role in guiding die interpretation of experience, determining the meaning of social events, and defining die personal identities of individuals. Even though he holds that frames are secondary to and often derivative of social structure and social organization, he also thinks that situationally based interpretative patterns can actively influence social structural arrangements.

As die preceding introduction to Goffman's social theory should indicate, Goffman's work read as a whole, coheres into a rich and concrete theory of die self and social life. He articulates the interdependence of self and social life wim detail, poignancy, and insight matched by no other social theorist.

  1. For example, Alasdair Macintyre, "The Self as Work of Art," New Statesman (28 March 1969); Alvin Gouldner, "Other Symptoms of the Crisis: Goffman's Dramaturgy and Other New Theories," in idem, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (Heinemann, 1970); Alan Dawe, "The Underworld View of Erving Goffman," British Journal of Sociology, 24 (1973): pp. 246-53.
  2. For example, Alan Dawe, "The Underworld View of Erving Goffman," British Journal of Sociology, 24 (1973): pp. 246-53; Eliot Friedson, "Celebrating Erving Goffman," Contemporary Sociology, 12 (1983), pp. 359-62; Mary Rogers, "Goffman on Power, Hierarchy, and Status," in Jason Ditton, ed., The View from Goffman (Macmillan, 1980); Michael Schudson, "Embarrassment and Erving Goffman's Idea of Human Nature," Theory and Society, 13 (1984): p. 646.