Erving Goffman, Sociology, and Impression Management

The way I act with my family is very different than the way I behave when I’m hanging out with my friends. For instance, when I’m with my friends I’ll cuss like a sailor (among other things haha). Even worse, if I’m hanging out with my friends in the math department I might try and take extra care to not say stupid math things so that nobody will think I’m incompetent or dumb.

But does this mean I’m being fake to my family and to my friends? And in a math department where graduate students worry about the Imposter syndrome, is there a precise way to describe my habits of impression management?

I turned to dramaturgical theory of social interaction for the answer.

Sociologist Erving Goffman invented dramaturgical theory of social interaction based on the idea that people are careful to manage how they present themselves to other people. We will behave differently with different groups of our friends because we care about how we appear. I think a great example of this in the present day would be how a lot of us take care to curate our Instagram pages or facebook profiles.

But I think the greater point is that the different sides of ourselves would present to other people are all equally valid side parts of the Mosaic of who we are, but by taking care in the sides of ourselves that we present to specific groups we can manage impressions other people have us.


I want to leave some video resources for anyone interested in learning more about this theory. The first is a playlist explaining some of the nuances of the dramaturgical theory of social interaction. I’m a huge fan of video number to the idealized performance!

The second is a video from one of my favorite YouTube channels, crash course on sociology. I think she does a good job of explaining the basic idea Goffman’s Theory and how it fits in with other ideas in sociology.

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