Goffman, E. 1959. Introduction and Conclusion to tPoSiEL.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. “Introduction” and “Conclusion.” Pp. 1-16 and 238-255 in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.



Interactions are information-acquiring and information-using, as status, attitudes, personality, etc. become critical to structuring interactions.  Information is carried through “sign-vehicles” – clues in conduct, physical appearance that may help to frame interactions (albeit on stereotype, disclosures made by the individual, or past experience). Interactions mobilize activity of individuals through “performance” (15), in hopes that they will be able to convey the impression they’d like to be held by others. Traditions of group or interaction may frame interaction, making the intentionality behind each interaction more obscure – labeled a “part” or “routine” (16) relating situational activities and expectations to larger, structural roles.

“Information about the individual helps to define the situation, enabling others to know in advance what he will expect of them and what they may expect of him. Informed in these ways, the others will know how to best act in order to call forth a desired response from him” (1).

Expressiveness of an individual (“capacity to give impressions”) is formed from the expression he gives, and the one that he gives off — (intentional, admittedly vs. the reception, framed by expectations held by others).


“You do not know, you cannot determine scientifically, that I will not steal your money or your spoons. But inferentially I will not, and inferentially, you will have me as a guest” – W.I. Thomas, quoted in Social Behavior and Personality: Contributions of W.I. Thomas to Theory and Social Research (1951).


In creating the definition of the situation, all participants are active.  “Ordinarily the definitions of the situation projected by the several different participants are sufficiently attuned to one another so that open contradictions will not occur” (9) – however, this optimism is maintained through the suppression of individuals’ feelings and desires — something that is supported by a “division of definitional labor” (9) – all support the interaction by expressing what is vital, but omit/do not commit to items that are not immediately important – creating a “working consensus” (10).  *** In footnote, discusses that even formal debates or problem-solving meetings operate on working consensuses – an agreement to disagree, so to speak. There is an inherent moral character of defined situations – where this “agreement” is built on the assumption of shared values, appropriate conduct – and encourages others to fulfill this expectation as it has been set out by the individual.


As interactions continue, additions and modifications to initial information sets are built, altering impressions already underway. Discredits or contradictions in impressions are termed “disruptive events” – were interactions may blur or halt, due to the improper or lost definition of the situation. These are managed by “defensive” or “protective practices” (13) – which are “employed to safeguard the impression fostered by an individual during his presence before others” (14) – however, these become critical to group interaction (telling tales of disruptive events — a story about being too drunk, or sending a pre-emptive e-mail) — but Goffman doesn’t seem to go into why these are important or interesting.




“social establishment” – “any place surrounded by fixed barriers to perception in which a particular kind of activity regularly takes place” (238) – populated by interacting performers, audiences, their assumptions. Divides “back region” and “front region” – where performances are prepared and presented, respectively (DQ – where do we get terms of front/backstage?) – by controlling access to who can see what and when – a working consensus is built through the audience understanding that they do not have access to the entire process. Establishments may be viewed “technically” – for level of in/efficience in activity organization, “politically” – for ability to demand actions of others, “structurally” – in terms of horizontal and vertical status/social divisions, and “culturally” – which moral values influence establishment activity.  Adds that establishments may also be viewed “dramaturgically” – how impression management is used within this contexts, and what identities/relationships arise from these interactions.


“When an individual appears before others, he knowingly and unwittingly projects a definition of the situation, of which a conception of himself is an important part” (242).  — How can one do both, simultaneously?  Origins in intentionality, versus what is received?  Or, possibly more in common with non-symbolic interaction/stimuli response?


Disruptions, disorganization in interactions/activities may prove very consequential – damaging reputations, statuses, moralities… Goffman categorizes the levels of performance disruptions: 1) personality; 2) interaction; and, 3) social structure. (Goffman is a little unclear here, presenting the typologies AFTER he discusses them — leaving me to retrace and infer from previous paragraphs).


Goffman makes the caveat that these rules are used for Western audiences, based upon Western values and practices of interaction – where there is strong religious influence, caste/status stratification, or political upheaval – these norms may not settle well (where guards are always up, no backstage to speak of).  Additionally, he notes that these rules are also not wholly generalizable, even within our Western culture – as subgroups and subcultures may dictate alternate interactional activities or structuring.


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