Hunt, S.A. and K.A. Miller. 1997. “The Discourse of Dress and Appearance: Identity Talk and a Rhetoric of Review.”

Hunt, Scott A. and Kimberly A. Miller. 1997. “The Discourse of Dress and Appearance: Identity Talk and a Rhetoric of Review.” Symbolic Interaction 20(1): 69-82.


  • Key idea: “how identities are constructed and maintained via talk about personal dress and appearance” (69).
  • Introduces concept of rhetoric of review – “the taken-for-granted rules that guide the evaluations of the appearances of self and others” (69). Three components of a rhetoric of review:
  • Moral Precepts
  • Program Neutralizations – drawn from Sykes and Matza (1957) – “consists of denial of responsibility and denial of injury” (70)
  • Review Neutralizations – “consists of condemnation of the condemners and appeal to higher loyalties” (70).


Stone (1962): symbolic interactionism has a “discursive bias” that focuses on language, overlooking nonverbal forms of communication – such as appearance. However, even though SI has shifted away from this discursive bias, the “discourse of appearance” – “a form of talk that constructs situated identities for self and others” (69) remains underdeveloped. Stone (1962) seems to note that discourse is solely verbal, whereas appearance refers to visual (re)presentations of the self. Authors use discourse to refer to “both verbal and visual communications as well as to larger cultural idioms that reflect prevailing norms, values, and beliefs” (70).


Identity as situated within impression management (Goffman 1959) – a type of identity work that is “an interactional accomplishment that is socially constructed, interpreted, and communicated via words, deeds, and images” (Hunt and Benford 1994: 491, here 70). Identity talk is a major component of identity work. Identity talk consists of two major processes:

  • Identity Avowals : “actors situate a person or collectivity relative to the person making the attribution, others, and the environment” (70)
  • Identity Attributions (from Hunt, Benford, and Snow 1994): “situate a person or collectivity relative to the person making the attribution, others, and the environment” (70)

*Um, what? Please clarify!


Both identity avowals and attributions are reliant upon identity typifications: “conceptions of types of identities found in the actors’ life worlds”, used as actors “make claims to who they are, who they are not, who others are, and who others are not” (70) – offers norms, hierarchies, prescriptions of behaviors that are attached to identities


“identity talk is… a discourse that reflects actors’ perceptions of a social order” (Hunt and Benford 1994, here 70).


Stone (1962)’s concepts of program and review.

Program: “responses by the self to one’s own appearance” (70)

Review: “responses by others to someone’s appearance” (70)


Methods: open-ended interviews of sorority members, discussing communicative techniques, ideals and standards for acceptable appearances, roles that time and money take in creating looks (classed dimensions?), as well as personality traits that draw from senses of collectivity, personal/group identity, group membership



  • Moral Precepts: establishing boundaries of personality, culture, (situated) interaction that evaluate morality, appropriateness, or “goodness” of self and others
  • Program Neutralizations: minimization of others’ critique, justification of own appearance and styling to avoid “deviant” identities associated with the violation of appearance norms – when violations of norms through appearance or action, use of program neutralization to avert stigmatizing identities (Goffman 1963b)
  • Two types of Program Neutralizations (Sykes and Matza 1957):
    1. Denial of Responsibility: “in so far as the delinquent can define himself as lacking responsibility for his actions, the disapproval of self or others is sharply reduced in effectiveness as a restraining influence” (S&M 1957: 667, here 76); may also assert that deviance is an accident, or out of one’s control (S&M).
    2. Denial of Injury: assertions that deviances do not cause significant damage or harm – didn’t care, isn’t an issue — minimization of injury or deviance itself.
  • Review Neutralizations (S&M 1957)
    1. Condemnation of the Condemners: “allows the ‘offender’ to shift ‘the focus of attention from his own deviant acts to the motives and behavior of those who disapprove of his actions” (S&M 1957: 668 here 77). I.e., calling out the fashion police
    2. Appeal to Higher Loyalties: “accounts for deviations or actions that could be called into question sometimes refer to how ‘other norms, held to be more pressing or involving a higher loyalty, are accorded precedence’” (S&M 1957: 669, here 78). I.e., appeal to physical comfort, etc.



“Our data suggest that normative orders associated with dress and appearance are constructed and maintained through talk. Further, identities are communicated, preserved, and repaired through a taken-for-granted rhetoric of review that provides the ground rules for constructing critical assessments of appearance” (79).


“[…] rhetoric of review consists of flexible codes that are called upon to establish the terms by which ‘legitimate’ assessment of appearance can proceed” (79).



Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Goffman, Erving. 1963b. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identities. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hunt, Scott A. and Robert D. Benford. 1994. “Identity Talk in the Peace and Justice Movement.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22: 488-517.

Hunt, Scott A., Robert D. Benford, and David A. Snow. 1994. “Identity Fields: Framing Processes and the Social Construction of Movement Identities.” Pp. 185-208 in New Social Movements: From Ideology to Identity, edited by Enrique Larana, Hank Johnston, and Joseph R. Gusfield. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Stone, Gregory P. 1962. “Appearance and the Self.” Pp. 86-118 in Human Behavior and Social Processes, edited by Arnold M. Rose. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sykes, Gresham and David Matza. 1957. “Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency.” American Sociological Review 22: 664-670.



See Also:

Cahill, Spencer E. 1989. “Fashioning Males and Females: Appearance Management and the Social Reproduction of Gender.” Symbolic Interaction 12: 281-298.

Davis, Fred. 1992. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kaiser, Susan B., Richard H. Nagasawa, and Sandra S. Hutton. 1991. “Fashion, Postmodernity, and Personal Appearance: A Symbolic Interactionist Formulation.” Symbolic Interaction 14: 165-185.


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