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Goffman and intercivilizationalism|
by Seyed Javad
11 August 2003 14:37 UTC
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To know oneself, one should assert oneself.
Psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.
We continue to shape our personality all our life.
If we knew ourselves perfectly, we should die.Albert Camus
I have demonstrated some of the complexities of the question of accusation of Eurocentrism in the Western tradition of social/sociological theory. Whilst in several ways, this accusation has a general validity, the ‘alternatives’ are problematical and themselves caught up in paradoxes of Modernity/Enlightenment. I then went on to open quite a pragmatic and open-ended perspective of intercivilizational dialogue through which intellectual and political scenarios of ‘Cultural Clash’ can be avoided. But whilst broad and open, there were still some positive features of the outlook preferred, and some firm methodological orientations (Cultural Hermeneutics) reconsidered. In this chapter I want to get a little more specific in showing how these general approaches can be put to work in a more focused and analytical way. This is done by examining the ways in which the work of key sociologists can be both critiqued (for Eurocentrism) and used as important resources (for cultural hermeneutic intercivilizationality).
Goffman and Enlightenment Dilemma
The Enlightenment (the epitome of ideals such as optimism, rationality, and search for absolute knowledge) fostered the view that self is the agent of all knowledge and is therefore the medium in which such ideals can materialise and flourish. (B. Williams, 1973) While this placed a very high valuation on the inner self, the soul, if you like, this project has come under great many criticisms as elaborated in the previous chapters.
This experience came not only to end any belief in this permanent agent or substance known as self, or soul, but also the end of God who was seen as the linchpin of the grand project. Describing this experience, which we now call the ‘post-modern experience’, Mark C. Taylor, said that the post-modern experience ‘begins’ with the death of God and ‘ends’ with the death of ourselves. (Taylor, 1984. 6) In social and cultural theories where these developments are theorized, the ideal of self came to be recognized as affirming not so much any thing like a soul, but fundamentally a social construct. So, many theorists came to view the self not as a permanent impression of God that resides in the human person and gives the human person a divine identity, but as something that could be constructed by the consumption of mass-produced objects and images. This self is not related to the eternal but to the social on the one hand and it is related to what individuals either purchase, or want to purchase on the other hand. As a direct consequence of this, society, sociability and identity have become something for which one ‘shops’, and therefore, the questions concerning an authenticity (communal or individual) have become irrelevant to the present. (F. Jameson, 1991) In sociological terms, the disappearance of the authenticity, in general, and the self, in particular, can be further explained with reference to end-of-author’s theories which are seen as an important precursors of the post-modern debates on society and self. Goffman’s particular sociological study of people, for instance, has been in terms of how people perform in social situations and not in terms of what they are ‘inside.’ His important work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he records the findings of his study of various institutions that make up social life (e.g. home, the workplace, high school), points out that people act out social roles under curta in circumstances, and thus life is essentially theatrical. He refers to people as actors and demonstrates the different ways in which they act ‘on stage’ and ‘back stage.’ Goffman has come to be interpreted as an intellectual, who does not pay fundamental attention to the modernist questions about whether the self was authentic or not. The proponents of this critique, generally speaking, argue that his only interest was in whether our various performances successfully promote our social survival. To endorse their exegetical interpretations, without any concern for the overall spirit of Goffmanian existential concerns about the self - as a source of social creativity- (Gary T. Marx, 1984. 662), the proponents of this critique retort to the following passage in Goffman’s work, where he says that the self ‘is not an organic thing that has a specific location, whose fundamental 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.’ (E. Goffman, 1971. 223) Thus, for Goffman, it is understood, the self is seen only as a series of facades erected before different audiences. Although the facades seem to appear to emanate from some intrinsic self inside the social performer, the truth is the opposite—the self is a creation of the façade which arises from one’s interaction with other actors on the social stage. The substantial elements of this critique are profoundly neglectful about the paradoxes of Enlightenment, whereby society and self were moving towards an organizational form that would breed ‘dreadful organization man’å (Marx, 1984. 653), which aroused, in the first place, the existential concerns of Goffman in cataloging the fragile and stigmatizing conditions of modern society by employing with ‘imagination and passion any resources that seem useful to illuminate aspects of human life that most of us overlook and to show us more of humanity there than we could otherwise see’ (Eliot Freidson, 1983. 359-362).X It has often been argued that something is missing in all Goffman’s work on the structure and nature of social interaction within modernity in relation to power-group-individual. (Tom Burns, 1992. 54-55) The proponents of this critique are luminaries such as Edward Shils and Alvin Gouldner, who neglect the dialectics of Goffmanian approach in relation to self and total institution (be it an asylum or a society as a whole) in a pair of concepts introduced by Goffman, namely ‘The Confined Self’ and ‘The Recalcitrant Self’. (Goffman, 1997. 81-91) Through these conceptual schemes Goffman attempts to argue that if the central theme of power is ‘authority’ it should be noted that the self could not be submerged totally into power-relations and always there is a room, where the self demonstrates its insusceptibility to be controlled. And more importantly he argues, unlike many critics (who adhere to radical relativism), that this recalcitrance is not an incidental mechanism of defense but rather an essential constituent of the self. (Goffman, 1997. 89) His critique of conventional sociology is more subtle than his own critics, who attempt to fault him on the accounts of what has not been said about the power-structure in the modernist sense of the term. Sociologists, Goffman argues, have always had a vested interest in pointing to the ways in which the individual if formed by groups, identifies with groups, and wilts away unless he obtains emotional support from groups. But when Goffman closely observes what goes on in a social role, a spate of sociable interaction, or in society as a whole, embracement of the unit is not all that he finds out. Goffman, instead, finds the individual employing methods to keep some distance, some elbow room, between himself and that which others assume he should be identified. (Goffman, 1997. 89) This conscious act of distancing could not come about or even arise within the human self, if there was no essential part within personality and that is what makes creativity and recalcitrance possible and even appreciated by Goffman himself. Marx goes as far as to state that Goffman had a fascination ‘ … and appreciated people who had a good thing and those able to assert themselves in the face of what could be an oppressive social structure and culture ’. (Gary T. Marx, 1984. 652) This point is actually confirmed by Goffman himself where he states that the self can emerge by those who practice self-realization against something. (Goffman, 1997. 90) By affirming Czeslaw Milosz’s analysis of self, where the latter argues that
In short, Ketman means self-realization against something. He who practices Ketman suffers because of the obstacles he meets; but if these obstacles were suddenly to be removed, he would find himself in a void which might perhaps prove much more painful. Internal revolt is sometimes essential to spiritual health, and can create a particular form of happiness. What can be said openly is often much less interesting than the emotional magic of defending one’s private sanctuary. (1955. 76)
Goffman’ sense of existentialism may not be similar in idiomatic aspect to the continental tradition of existentialism but it is undeniably within analogous semantics of modernity where the ethics of authenticity is of royal significance. This inference of mine could be further consolidated by Goffman’s own existential concern about self within modernity where he expresses his anxiety about the dangers and risks, which engulf modern public domain (self, society, politics, religion). The true sense of self arises once one is conscious about ‘belongness’ but if this is related to the domain of social in all its aspects and dimensions then we have robbed what we purport to nurture, namely the self. Goffman explains this paradox of modernity where sociology attempts to view the individual and his self in terms of his place in ‘an organization [which attempts to define] him to be’ (Goffman, 1997. 90). Although it is true that without something to belong to, we have no stable self, however, argues Goffman, total commitment and attachment to any social unit implies a kind of selflessness. The sense of selfhood can arise through the little ways in which one resist the pull of total institutions, even free society, that are only possible within modernity. Whatever the grand importance of society and the social dimensions it is possible to discern a spiritual dimension within Goffman, where the ‘Recalcitrant Self’ steps back to by distancing itself through internal revolt in order to keep the spiritual health by creating a particular form of happiness that is not available in the solid buildings of the world. (Goffman, 1997. 90) Although he does not reveal of what natures are those ‘cracks’ where our sense of personal identity resides in nevertheless one could imagine that Goffman did retain something of existentialism. A Dostoevskian sense of existentialism runs through whole Goffman’s debate on self and the paradoxes of modernity where the ideas of selfhood and personal autonomy are repres ented within a sociological discourse but its existentialism is hardly unmissible. (Goffman, 1997. 87,91) Looking at the major exegetical works done on Goffman, one fact is unavoidable and that is the ‘point of departure’ which all critics shared, regardless of being for or against Goffman and that is their lack of interest in reading Goffman through a religious, intercivilizationalist and existentialist point of view. It is indeed possible to read him through such a point of departure, which would prove very constructive in an intercivilizationalist dialogicalism. His conclusions about human behavior seemed to suggest that we are all actors on a stage and a main plot line is the struggle over stigmas, in which we endlessly search for defects in others and desperately try to dupe these same people into not noticing our own by trying incessantly be like unstigmatized others. One can read Goffman as an existentialist, who illustratively depicted the ills of modernity and dilemmas of a theatrical societal arrangement for the biography of human individual by expanding it to a global stage, where, for instance, nations, states, racial groups, religious communities or civilizational federations stigmatize each others. This point is undeniable in Goffman as is his existentialism once one pays due attention to the dangers of the lack of ‘recalcitrant self’ within modernity, where people are more worried about their 'fronts,' what is visible to other people, than about what is going on inside them — sometimes to the point of sacrificing what is going on inside them. (Goffman, 1997. 21)
The question of authenticity is what distinguishes Existentialism as a prominent philosophical movement and there are many stances, as Alan Bennet remarks (1981. 12), where Goffman’s existential concerns come as close as to be rightly considered as a development of existentialist themes and concerns within sociology. This point could briefly be illustrated where Goffman quotes Sartre as saying,
The attentive pupil who wishes to be attentive, his eyes riveted on the teacher, his eyes open wide, so exhausts himself in playing the attentive role that he ends up by no longer hearing anything. (Goffman, 1959. 42)
Or a grocer, who
… dreams is offensive to the buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer. Society demands that he limit himself to his function as a grocer … (Goffman, 1959. 82)
And Goffman goes on to connect this theme to existential conceptualizations of Sartre by confirming the latter’s observations in ‘Being and Nothingness’, where Sartre argues that
… there are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition … (Sartre cited by Goffman, 1957. 82).
Goffman agrees with Existentialists, who argue that existence is not what a man should settle for but the self should make his own essences and values and attempt to break away from the deadening conditions created by society (history, culture, …) in order to imprison him. What Goffman does is to catalogue how the mechanisms of dreadful imprisonment are and what the limits of ‘breaking aways’ could be.
The idea of societal self in Goffman needs to be deconstructed in relation to the paradoxes of modernity before one could pass judgement about its existential relevance at an intercivilizational stage. Corey Anton in ‘Selfhood and Authenticity’ has eloquently explained this point. (Anton, 2001) Before being able to disqualify the existentialist significance of Goffman’s thesis and portray it as if it corresponds closely to the post-modern notion that it is not possible to see selves as independent individuals with essences which they then express in whatever ways they personally prefer— or argue that the notion of a real, permanent and deep self is, either lost, or replaced with a superficial collage of social constructs within Goffmanian discourse it might be sociologically more adequate to view how Goffman contributes to the framing of dilemmas of modernity and paradoxes of Enlightenment such as Human Freedom and Autonomy. Goffman contributes to the framing of these questions and shows how complex the question of human freedom and opportunities for self-fulfilment really is. Often it is argued, for example, fashion is characterized by differentiation and constant change and this is taken to mean that the individual’s autonomy is promoted, and it consequently to the questions of individuality or authenticity within modernity in contrast to feudal or traditional cultures. This post-liberal view about culture is to neglect the sociological wisdom that the differentiation into different life-styles and expressions of style is a consequence of changes in what Simmel terms the objective culture. And, at the same time, the growth of this culture also constitutes a threat to the search for authenticity. Goffman’s sociological account construes frames to view through how stigma comes about, how deviant is made, how autonomy is eroded, existential authenticity robbed through social process of stigmatization (and disqualification). Once one learns about how a process comes about (or learns about the functional mechanisms of an institutional stigmatization), then it is, if not easier, more probable that one becomes more conscious about the real dangers of some roles over against others in relation to one’s self within modernity in relation to order and agency within social canopy. (Kwang-Ki Kim, 2002) Although it should be noted that Goffman, as many other intellectuals, did not write solely for academic audience caught in theatrical concerns. The spoiled identity and stigmatized personalities were products of modernity and as well as successful businessmen and rich and powerful nations in contrast to poor and wretched nations on the earth. To think of Goffman in these terms is to situate Goffmanian discourse within the grand context of modern paradoxicality. In other words, it is to pose a question of royal importance, whereby, not only Goffman but also the whole sociological edifice is a profound reflection of namely what are the paradoxes of modernity?
The paradoxes of modernity do express themselves both individually as well as collectively. Each expresses itself respectively either externally or internally on the one hand or materially as well as spiritually at individual and collective level through determining the contours of existence within the individual self as well as society on the other hand. To focus on this complex of paradoxes of modernity and the grand multifarious dilemmas they pose would be beyond the scope of this work. On the contrary, here we would look at the paradoxes in a schematic fashion, which would pave the way for our analysis of Goffman and Modernity in relation to existential concerns in an intercivilizational perspective.
Sociological accounts of contemporary society have increasingly shifted away from talk of capitalism or industrial society towards a broader concern with modernity. The benefits of such an approach are most obvious in the attention, which is given to the non-material aspects of the social, and in the attendant interdisciplinary character of theorizing about modernity. The paradoxes of modernity are grand many issues and to focus upon all of them would be beyond the scope of this study but the ones, which are of relevance for this study, could be formulated as follows:
The struggle between individual striving for personal freedom and autonomy, and the increasing capacity of human beings to master or control their surroundings (social, political, natural, ecological and economic).
This tension has been played out in theories of functional differentiation, cultural contradictions, the civilising process and the disciplinary society. The dilemmas and paradoxes attendant upon any attempt to theorize modernity include the problem of historical periodization; historical time; selfhood and identity; the cultural status of nature; the ‘Eurocentric’ character of theorizing about modernity.
The paradoxes of modernity could be conceptualized as the personal and social tensions, which arise out of the traumatic experiences with industrialization and development within the fabric of society and symbolic universe of self. There are many questions that would result from such tensions and one can mention few such as why are some nations rich and others nations poor? Or why some people are more successful than others? Or why some get derailed and never ‘adjusted’, while others climb the ladders of success? Or does social success entail automatically authenticity and celebration of a fulfilled life? These questions represent the questions, which have occupied intellectuals since the dawn of modernity.
The answers to these questions are not unambiguous, and neither are the implications one would derive from the various answers offered. A common theme in the social theoretical literature we read is that modernity comes to us full of paradoxes. People are often made immeasurably better-off in terms of material well-being, but at the loss of their previous way of life and the social bonds they earlier relied upon. In dealing with the paradoxes of modernity sociologists wrestle with issues related to colonialism, capitalism, socialism, Islamism, fundamentalism, imperialism and how these systems of social organization affect our understanding of ourselves and our plight in the world.
Sociologically modernity refers to the last epoch in the history of humanity characterized by phenomenon like scientific and industrial revolution, economic, professional and political re-organization of societies around capitalistic form of production, birth of national states and so on.
Modernity has produced material and cultural resources for the development of accomplished individuality. For example, many technical innovations give people a chance to make their lives easier and to contribute to their intellectual growth. On the other hand, humanity has become more and more one-dimensional in a culture where even free time is mapped out to its smallest detail. And what is more, the process of globalization has caused the intense exploitation of the Third World and has led our common world to the edge of ecological and social catastrophe. Some refer to this as the tragedy of Enlightenment or the dilemmas of modernity. Its development has a paradoxical nature. Modernity has produced material and cultural wealth and prosperity, but on the other hand, it has also produced class, racial, religious, political, ideological, disciplinary, ethnic polarization on a global scale, mental pathologies, and a one-dimensionality that penetrates human society as a whole and has detrimental effects upon human person by devastating the aesthetics of sociability through alienative forces.
Erving Goffman (1922 -- 1982)
Sociologist; originally from Ukraine, born in Manville, Alberta, Canada. Educated at the University of Toronto and Chicago, he taught at the University of California: Berkeley (1958--68) and the University of Pennsylvania (1968--82). He was known for his work on patterns of human communication and language, particularly his analyses of routine social interactions such as the ways people walk past one another in public spaces. His books include, among many others, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956), Stigma (1963), Relations in Public (1972), and Forms of Talk (1981).
Goffman and The Critics
While post-structural critique was developing in France, there was a sociologist who developed his own line of analysis about the ways in which images, stagings, performances, impressions, frauds, cons, and 'betrayals' were involved in the production of everyday life. Erving Goffman, in a wide ranging series of books laid out the techniques and tactics by which the people he observed used the accouterments from the world of theatre in order to construct the dramaturgical impressions they wanted 'to give off' and to have other persons take.
When Goffman's works first came out, the reviews were decidedly unfriendly. There were three major lines of criticism, which were leveled at the work in the reviews and in books about sociology itself. First there were criticisms from the more established sociologists who complained that the world Goffman described was far too cynical, far too conniving, and far too much a function of personal will and intent. People do not 'stage' their social life world, rather they live it in innocence and naivete according to those who liked structural analysis which reduce people to the mere embodiment of the social forms into which they had been born and socialized.
Then too, on the left, there was the criticism that Goffman had depoliticized social interaction by ignoring the structures of power, status and class inequality, which greatly affected the ability of people to stage-manage the sociology of it all. In 1970, Gouldner wrote at length, in 'The Coming Crisis of American Sociology' that Goffman had trivialized the sociological project by his concentration on tactics while ignoring the reasons why people were reduced to such inauthentic presentations.
Last but not least there was the position of some critics, who argued that Goffman, Garfinkel and even Gouldner himself constituted, together, a rich underlife in American sociology which should be sustained and carefully considered. The nub of their arguments could be reformulated as this that Goffman was talking about a social process coming to birth while Durkheim, Mead, Cooley were talking about the kinds of social forms in the past or found only in the safe and responsive world of the middle class academic. These sociologists, in the historiography of social theory, are now considered as pre-cursors and collateral embodiments of what came to be called the postmodern sensibility. There could be a grain of truth in each of the above-mentioned critiques but the fact of the matter is their respective lack of awareness (or what is commonly called within reflexive social theory as Eurocentrism) about Goffman’s (both potential and dynamic) significance in an intercivilizational dialogue. This significance could not be detected or unthought (a la Wallerstein in his Unthinking Project of Social Sciences) as long as Goffman was read in terms of modernist-constructionist or Eurocentric sociology. A sense of Derridaian deconstructivism is needed to be re-inserted into the debate whereby intercivilizational concerns could be reformulated in an existential fashion within the project of sociology.
Goffman and Existentialism: Authenticity as an intercivilizational mode of dialogue
In the area of sociology known as 'symbolic interactionism', Goffman by following theorists such as Mead and Cooley have underlined the way in which the self is constructed from an understanding and internalization of others' (notably significant others') ways of looking at us. Thus we find the use of terminology such as 'the looking glass self' or 'dramaturgical performance'. He examined the ways in which we manage the impressions we make upon each other in his now-classic book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, first published in 1956. While Goffman did not directly address the ways in which the body is adorned in order to make an impression, he did touch upon the body as that part of the self, which is engaged in creating an impression, in managing the reactions of others to one's self: "There will be a back region with its tools for shaping the body, and a front region with its fixed props. … The self is a product of all of these arrangements, and in all of its parts bears the marks of this genesis." (Goffman, 1959. 253) One such social establishment that acts a back region for many in their impression management is the hair salon. The old slogan, "only your hairdresser knows for sure" suggests the secret-keeping region that Goffman describes in his discourses.
The movie The Associate, for instance, takes makeovers to the extreme when Whoopi Goldberg turns herself into a white male in order to get ahead on Wall Street. This comedy of the absurd is a meditation on how assigned roles of race and gender interact with acquired roles of education and work identities to either support or work against our goals in our interactions with others. Negotiating these complex role conflicts involves impression management, sometimes to the extreme measures of pretending to be something we are not. To pull off these impressions we need props and confidants. There is a materialistic aspect of image making.Image management is a specific part of the impression management that we engage in our everyday lives. This is true even when the image we want to create is a presentation of our ‘true selves’. We consider some of the different aspects of image management, including the question how does a punker manage the impression that he doesn't care what impression he makes. Goffman (1956,1973) has described how people negotiate and validate identities in face-to-face encounters and how people establish 'frames' within which to evaluate the meaning of encounters. These ideas have been influential in how sociologists and psychologists see person-to-person encounters. Kendon (1988) gives a useful summary of Goffman's views on social interaction. (A. Kendon, 1988, 14-40)
Between the 50s and the early 80s, Erving Goffman worked to describe the structure of face-to-face interaction and to account for how that structure was involved in the interactive tasks of everyday life. He developed a series of concepts, which are useful in describing and understanding interaction, and also showed how the physical nature of interaction settings is involved in people's interactions.
One of the things people need to do in their interactions with others is present themselves as an acceptable person: one who is entitled to certain kinds of consideration, who has integrity, who has certain kinds of expertise, who is morally relatively unblemished, and so on. In Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (Goffman, 1964) he considers cases where there are particular problems in making these claims. People have techniques and resources available to allow them to do this. 'Backstage' preparation can help in presenting an effective 'front', 'expressive resources' can be mobilized, and cooperation from others present in the interaction can often be relied upon to smooth over jagged places and provide opportunities for redeeming gaffes. Goffman sees embarrassment as an important indicator of where people fail to present an acceptable self, and an important motivator. A person wishes to present him/herself effectively to decrease the embarrassment of a failing presentation, but other participants are also motivated to assist the performance by their wish to avoid the embarrassment they feel at its failure. So, most of the time, we interact in a cozy conspiracy in which it appears as if everyone knows what they are talking about, can remember the names of those who they're talking to, and has an appearance and presence which is pleasant and unexceptionable. In this sense, our 'selves' are presented for the purpose of interacting with others, and are developed and maintained with the cooperation of others through the interaction.
In face-to-face encounters, much information about the self is communicated in ways incidental to the 'main business' of the encounter, and some is communicated involuntarily: Goffman distinguishes between information 'given', that is, intended and managed in some way, and that 'given off' which 'leaks through' without any intention. He also points out a difference between the 'main' or 'attended track' of the interaction and other 'unattended tracks' which are at that moment less salient. If a colleague calls round, I may discuss a work problem and prepare a cup of coffee simultaneously, both of these going on cooperatively and interactively with the other person, but it is generally clear that the 'point' of the interaction is the discussion, not the coffee making.
The question of acceptability of personality in Goffmanian discourse could be related to two interdependent notions of personal truthfulness: sincerity and authenticity. In pre-modern times, the dominant notion was sincerity - individuals were to be truthful in their interactions with others. For example, if you were asked whether you had a spare bed by a traveler, you were to tell the truth. The prevalence of this view is seen in the literature of the time, where duplicity was parodied and mocked, and the scoundrel was the double-dealer.
With the advent of modernity, the growth of the state, the increasing complexity of individual roles, the increasing emphasis on the role of the individual, and related phenomena, the concept of sincerity became obsolescent as did honor, dignity, decency and chivalrousness. Individuals had to deal with multiple audiences and the sincere individual began being portrayed as simple-minded and naive. Instead of sincerity, a new notion of authenticity emerged in culture and literature; one where, instead of being absolutely truthful in all interactions with others, the new ideal was to be truthful with one's self, the new protagonist was wrestling to reconcile his outward actions with his inward feelings.
That the shift from sincerity to authenticity coincided with the dawn of the modern era is no coincidence: modernity imposed increasing numbers of constraints on individuals and imposed a need for greater number of interactions - both causing increasing dissonance between "authentic" feeling and actual action. Moreover, social and intellectual hierarchies and orders were being overturned, leaving uncertainty about the moral value of absolute sincerity and creating an opening for emphasis on the subjective and individual experience.
The great early example of this is the praise of the natural, unencumbered man in Rousseau's writings. Such a view has only increased in the years since Rousseau. Today we have seen what Hochschild (Hochschild, 1979; 1983) calls the "commercialization" of emotions: Flight attendants, for example, are encouraged to bring their natural energy and happiness to work and utilize it in customer interactions.
The problem we are concerned with then - that of the individual reconciliation of the "true self" and an individual's actions as opposed to the problem of sincerity involving role-playing in interpersonal interactions is not omnipresent in human history but is a symptom of modernity and specifically the societal-individual interactions that are the products of modernity. This is an essential aspect of dramaturgical sociology of Erving Goffman, which his definition of the acting self makes clear that the integrated personality is not some sort of mini-agent that only performs roles. It has a moral character and integrity is to the self what breath is to the living organism. The self, so to speak, consists in an awareness of identity which simultaneously transcends specific roles and provides an integrating means of relating them to personal biography; and a set of dispositions for managing the transactions between motives and the expectations ‘scripted’ by particular roles. (Giddens, 1988. 259)
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor examines the consequences of the modern emphasis on authenticity. He believes that the emphasis on connecting individual emotion with action necessarily leads to relativism: each individual is seeking self-fulfillment to express their own feelings and desires. This leads to a politics of liberal neutrality (such as that articulated by Rawls and Dworkin, for example) in which society ought to take no moral positions lest it create dissonance between the (suggested or required) actions of individuals and their "true" emotions and understandings. This can lead to the unpleasant consequence of societal fragmentation and compartmentalization. (Taylor, 1992)
Both the existentialist perspective on authenticity and the more recent structuralist and post-structuralist thought on the subject grow out of the intellectual seeds sowed by Nietzsche. In the second of his Untimely Meditations, Nietzsche asserts the existence of a disconnection between the true man and the actual man constrained by society and the State. Although it should be mentioned that he neglects the question of disconnectivity, which does not result (and as a matter of fact falls without the parameters of both state and society) either from the societal or statist constraints, but it causes the aesthetic relation between ‘true man’ and ‘actual man’ to be disconnected. However, it is argued that if man allows for this latter self to dominate with no interest in the former, he lets his existence be "a thoughtless accident." But Nietzsche's analysis is in some ways subtler than his existentialist successors for he acknowledges the paradox inherent in this quest: "What does your conscience say? 'You shall become who you are'" (Nietzsche, 1974. 270).
Simone de Beauvoir, following in the existentialist tradition popularized by Sartre, considers the "serious man" - her formulation of a similar character developed by Nietzsche - in The Ethics of Ambiguity. (Simon de Beauvoir, 1948. Chap. 2) The serious man is a dishonest man, an inauthentic man, a man who denies his freedom because he "chooses to live in an infantile world" out of fear or full of diffidence. The serious man submits his freedom to external authority: he is the religious, the Communist, the unquestioning. He abandons his true self, living forever masked.
Beauvoir admits that there are constraints on this freedom (for example enslavement), but it is the task of the free man to exercise his freedom: "a man who has the necessary instruments to escape this lie and who does not want to use them consumes his freedom in denying them. He makes himself serious." Out of this notion of freedom to express the true self comes the imperative to women to loose the bonds that … constrain them, the masks that they wear: although "women inherit a long tradition of submission … there is often laziness and timidity in their resignation; their honesty is not quite complete; but to the extent that … it exists, their freedom remains available, it is not denied … ." (Simone de Beauvoir, 1948. 35-73)
Critiques of authenticity from the French intellectual tradition of the second half of the 20th century end in paradox: after deconstructing the self and the notion of the authentic, all that is left for the individual is to engage in a sort of "aesthetics of the self" - to create one's life as a work of art. It seems that they want to give up one set of grammars of being genuine for another, without giving us a criterion of what makes one kind of grammar more genuine than another. The existentialists are clear that they cannot justify their preference for some authentic grammars of being over others by an appeal to human nature, our tradition, or universal nomos. Their silence on this matter, while consistent, is nonetheless a source of confusion in a very existential sense. Their practice suggests, however, that they realize that their diagnosis of the current dangers of an Enlightenment faith in universal reason, as well as their preference for an ethics which is an aesthetics of existence with its dangers, is ultimately an interpretation to be judged in terms of its resonance with other intellectuals and actors and its authentic-generating results. Foucault, starting from an explicit rejection of the existentialist project (the rejection of which was so central to his work), arrives at a startlingly similar conclusion: "From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think that there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art" (Foucault, 1984. 351). The only difference seems to be that whereas the existentialists argue that the self is handed to each individual on a platter and it is our task to remove the barriers between us and the food and partake in it, Foucault and others are making the argument that we are given neither food nor a platter, but must imagine it, conjure it up, it being amorphous, not necessarily in the form of food or even a platter.
In 1892, a full half-century before the appearance of Camus' L'Etranger, the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun published Mysteries. (Hamsun, 2001). Hamsun (who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920) is generally classified with existentialist writers, despite his significantly earlier chronology. The protagonist of Mysteries, Johan Nilsen Nagel, arrives in a small Norwegian town. It is not clear wherefrom he came, whereto he is going, or why he is there. Nagel moves into the town's hotel, saying few words to the puzzled local residents. Nagel eventually begins to interact with the community: he defends an imbecile who is being taken advantage of by a town official. Why does he do this? It is not clear. Nagel has with his luggage a violin case, but in it there is no violin. He volunteers to an interlocutor that he carries this case simply to make a good impression on people, to make them think that he is learned, that he is the sort of person that would play a violin. But then, at the town fair, Nagel happens to borrow someone's violin and plays beautifully.
Shortly after his arrival, Nagel takes a long walk outside of town for a day. When he returns, a telegram is awaiting him concerning the sale of some property of his. Again, later in the book he volunteers that he had in fact sent this telegram to himself (from the neighboring town to which he walked) so as to appear to be a man of wealth. But are we to trust him? This continues throughout the book: whatever information Nagel gives, he gives it self-consciously, and depending on his audience the information differs.
So we should say that, using existentialist analysis of sincerity and authenticity, Nagel is a completely insincere character - a modern character - for he has to perform for multiple audiences. But how authentic is he? This is a question which Hamsun does not allow the reader to answer for everything we know about Nagel is filtered through the perspective of Nagel - we see him only masked, albeit not always with the same mask on, and from this we can conclude nothing about what lies behind the masks. Unlike L'Etranger in which we also are given a minimalist picture of the protagonist, Camus' protagonist is "unmasked," showing his "true self," whereas Hamsun's Nagel is perpetually masked. (Camus, 1956)
If we knew more about Nagel, could we discover what was behind his masks, his "true self"? The answer is unequivocally no; we can increase the number of interactions in which we observe him to be participating, but in each interaction he simply wears a different mask. Do the townspeople with whom he interacts only express their "true selves"? They are certainly more stable in their personalities, but this doesn't mean they are more "genuine", they simply wear just one mask. As sociologist Robert Ezra Park wrote:
"It is probably no mere historical accident that the word 'person', in its first meaning, is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role… It is in these roles that we know each other; it is in these roles that we know ourselves" (Park, 1950. 250).
The question of the "authenticity" of Nagel is unanswerable because of the incoherence of the dualistic notion of "true self" versus masked self. Even Camus' protagonist is part of a tradition, shaped by externalities (an unfortunate word since it implies a clear distinction between the "external" and "internal"). Psychologists (Kardiner, 1939) attempt to dissent - the true self, they argue, the unencumbered ego, may very well be shaped by external factors - for example, biological and cultural ones - but it is distinguishable, it develops in childhood and adolescence as part of personal identity formation. But why can we consider it static? Why isolate this point and say any changes after this are "unnatural," counter to the "true self"?
Let us revisit some of the critiques of authenticity encountered earlier. Recall that Taylor argued that support for the "quest for authenticity" leads to relativism and a fragmented, amoral society of liberal neutrality. But we can now see that Taylor errs in his assignment of causality. It is not necessarily the case that the quest for authenticity leads to an amoral society – different than religious society though- but rather a society and historical tradition shape each individual's quest for authenticity, since the masks that are omnipresent on our faces are mass-produced, and only the minutest details differ.
Recall also that de Beauvoir argued that it was the task of man and woman in particular to exercise freedom in not allowing masks to be placed on one's self, to remove masks already in place, and to exercise the existential individual freedom behind them. The search for this existential freedom, as we have seen, seems to be a futile quest: the creation of a unique space for the "true self" is improbable, if not impossible.
The distinguished woman's historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has analyzed the historical problems of women's roles from a perspective heavily influenced by post-structuralist thought. Her classic essay "The Female World of Love and Ritual" considers the intimate female-female relationships that developed in Victorian America. (1975, 1-29) She concludes that these relationships developed because of the structural factors present at the time. Specifically, with a rigid demarcation between men's spheres and roles and women's sphere's and roles, such relationships were a coping mechanism providing necessary emotional and physical intimacy. This is the sort of productive analysis that is important: instead of searching for the way in which each of these Victorian women threw off culturally imposed "masks" and expressed an inner existential freedom (as de Beauvoir might have), Smith-Rosenberg realizes, like Park, that all inter- and intra-personal displays are masks created by "external" forces, and it is in the complex navigation of these masks - not quite a stripping away perhaps unfolding, coping - that what has been called the quest for authenticity occurs.
What, then, of the quests for liberation exemplified by de Beauvoir? Is this not part of the humanist quest - to seek truth and freedom? One must seek new foundations for such quests. The apparently hopeless situation of the enslaved or imprisoned is just as constrained by physical barriers as the bourgeois woman (whom de Beauvoir sees as having the power and opportunity for self-liberation) is constrained by historical and cultural factors. So perhaps it is all constraints that must be fought.
Goffman’s existentialism: A source of intercivilizational inspiration?
In the The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life Goffman seeks to show the reader how everyone sets out to present themselves to the world around them, always trying to maintain the role they have selected for themselves, since those whom they meet not only try to decide what role it is you are playing, but also whether or not you are competent to play that role. More significantly, impression management is a function of social setting. Erving Goffman portrays everyday interactions as strategic encounters in which one is attempting to sell a particular self-image--and, accordingly, a particular definition of the situation. He refers to these activities as face-work. Beginning by taking the perspective of one of the interactants, and he interprets the impact of that person's performances on the others and on the situation itself. He considers being in wrong face, out of face, and losing face through lack of tact, as well as savoir-faire (diplomacy or social skill), the ways a person can attempt to save face in order to maintain self-respect, and various ways in which the person may harm the face of others through faux pas such as gaffes or insults (Goffman, 1959. 209). These conditions occur because of the existence of self presentational rules. These rules, in turn, are determined by how situations are defined. For instance, there is greater latitude in social situations than in task-oriented situations. Situations (small groups, a company, a church, national units, intercivilizational situation) also dictate available roles and how much self-importance people can sustain. Herewith one will try to analyze two situations that reinforce the desired interpretation of self that one wishes to convey. The first performance takes place in the university environment on the first day of school. The second scene takes place at the formal wedding reception among family and friends. Both interactions describe the Goffmanian concepts and schemas that the author uses throughout his sociological discourse. The first situation is portrayed in the university setting. Among a hundred first year students some will undoubtedly know each other beforehand, but on the whole everyone will be on their own and looking to make friends. Sasha is walking proudly to his first class trying to impress everyone. But if he was to make a mistake in his self-presentation now, he could take several weeks to recover his credibility. The process of establishing social identity, then, becomes closely allied to the concept of the frontm , which is described as that part of the individual's performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance (1959, 22). The front acts as a vehicle of standardization, allowing for others to comprehend the individual on the basis of projected character traits that have normative meanings. As a collective representation, the front establishes proper setting, appearance, and manner for the social role assumed by the actor, uniting interactive behavior with the personal front (1959, 27). A teacher will often act differently when talking to someone in his lecture, than he will with his friends in the restaurant later that night -the former providing a sense of intimacy, the latter a more public occasion. Goffman discusses the need for belief in the part you are playing, both in terms of the audience, and in terms of the performer himself. For the performance to appear credible the performer himself should believe the performance is genuine (which is a source of existential engagement with and within the world); the alternative is have no belief in the performance, to be what Goffman terms a cynic -someone who is deliberately seeking to mislead his audience (1959, 18). If the teacher honestly believes he is an easy going guy who doesn't worry about work, he may appear sufficiently credible to overcome any of the apparently contradictory evidence of the impression given off. When there is little or no occasion for " dramatizing" the performance the teacher will always appear unconcerned when the subject of work comes up, to show that work isn't a priority in his life. This process, known as dramatic realization (1959, 30), is predicated upon the activities of impression management, the control (or lack of control) and communication of information through the performance (1959, 208). To emphasize this, he may leave files on the floor, or leave books half open to show that work is something he does when he has time in between partying or talking to friends, and if someone comes round he will show mock concern about going out rather than working, before quickly agreeing to go out, even if he knows he has work to do for the next day, all in order to dramatize the front he is performing, and therefore make the front more credible. Secondly, the family setting is described as a mother-daughter relationship as "team" members during a wedding reception. Both mother and daughter co-operate together to avoid any unpleasant surprises. They engage in a discussion with guests but only in a general talk. The "dark secrets" of the bride have to be well kept from the guests and other family members. Here the author explores nature of group dynamics through a discussion of teams and the relationship between performance and audience. He uses the concept of the team to illustrate the work of a group of individuals who co-operate in performance, attempting to achieve goals sanctioned by the group (1959, 79). Co-operation may manifest itself as unanimity in demeanor and behavior or in the assumption of differing roles for each individual, determined by the desired intent in performance. The mother engages in a group talk while the daughter is beside her. The mother comments on her daughter’s looks and the audience responds in the positive way. Therefore, the mother performs as a shill, a member of the team who provides a visible model for the audience of the kind of response the performers are seeking, promoting excitement for the realization o f a goal, as an example of a discrepant role in the team (1959, 146). In each circumstance, the individual assumes a front that is perceived to enhance the group's performance – mother-daughter performance. Goffman describes the division between team performance and audience in terms of region, describing the role of setting in the differentiation of actions taken by individuals (1959, 107). Extending the dramaturgical analysis, he divides region into front, back, and outside the stage, contingent upon the relationship of the audience to the performance. While the official stance of the team is visible in their front stage presentation, in the backstage, the impression fostered by the presentation is knowingly contradicted as a matter of course, indicating a more truthful type of performance (1959, 112). In the back stage, the preparations for the front stage performance are made, the garbage of performances is there taken care of, actors prepare and rehearse their roles, and they can meet there before and after the performance. Note that any physical space can vary between front stage and back stage. For instance, when the mother takes her daughter to the back of a room, where no one can see them, she reminds of the roles that they should play. This can be analyzed as the backstage, the conflict and difference inherent to familiarity is more fully explored, often evolving into a secondary type of presentation, contingent upon the absence of the responsibilities of the team presentation. The performance is more "cynical" in the front region, perhaps. To be outside the stage involves the inability to gain access to the performance of the team, described as an audience segregation in which specific performances are given to specific audiences, allowing the team to contrive the proper front for the demands of each audience (1959, 137). This allows the mother-daughter team and audience to preserve proper relationships in interaction and the establishments to which the interactions belong. Goffman investigated social interaction as though it were a drama, a theatrical performance. He maintained that people use statuses and roles to create impressions. They work with the available tools on their cultural palette. People use a process called the presentation of self to create specific impressions in the minds of others- the ‘others’ could be the stranger a la Simmel and conceived in a sociologically complex fashion where what is of significance in the notion of the ‘others’ is the conditio sine qua non of the realization and full perception of one’s own identity-consciousness (tradition, self, society, nationality civilizationlity, ethnicity. Performances occur both front stage - in public- and back stage - in privacy or with primary group members. The semantic of Goffmanian discourse is seemingly cold or disengaging, with sufficient irony on occasion to seem more amused than sympathetic. There is a sense of detachment, not engagement. The very use of the vocabulary of the stage gives the impression of insincerity and contrivance on the part of the participants. So it is no wonder that Goffmanian sociology is often characterized as cynical by naive commentators. Few are likely to see it as a celebration of the existential sociology (which could be instrumental for the conceptualization of intercivilizational dialogicalism); more likely is the view that it is at least neutrally a dissection, or more actively an exposé of social manners. But such reactions are sociologically superficial and intellectually absurd because Goffmanian discourse is aimed to analyze the ordinary, everyday people in everyday life, circumstances in which personal ruin is more literary than real, in which the price to be paid for failure is not much greater than embarrassment, circumstances in which efforts to sustain creditable selves are largely successful. In contrast, there are circumstances in which the self is profoundly threatened, in which it is attacked and discredited and its actual survival put to doubt. It is in those circumstances th at Goffman shifts his stance and creates an eloquent and passionate assertion of the dignity and value of the self in existential sense and a defense of its right to resist the social world –that threatens the authenticity of the self- even when, from the observer's point of view, it resists what may be for its own good. The performance takes place in the front stage, where different props are used, making possible a specific type of interaction and creating a specific picture of the self. The front stage is generally fixed and defines the situation. It consists of the setting, i.e. the physical scene, and the personal front, i.e. the items of expressive equipment that the audience expects of the performer. The personal front is divided into appearance, i.e. the items that reveal the actor’s social status, and manner, i.e. the role, which the performer expects to play. Public and private lives are sustained by the ritual performances of the everyday and it has a phenomenological ontology in Schutzian sense – that could prove instrumental in laying the grounds for an existential intercivilizationality by creating an adequate intellectual space for a sociological understanding of human predicaments across civilizations by bringing closer the plurality of civilizational consciousness (Huntington, 1993) conscientiously. In this interaction process the self is created and manipulated. The self moves between front stage and back stage. On the front stage of publicity, the self uses more props and works harder on the right presentation of self than in the back stage of privacy. In the back stage the front stage performances are prepared, and this space is therefore in a way more authentic, more private and less social. Nevertheless, says Goffman, even in these most intimate moments and spaces of social life, some rituality remains. The self from Goffman’s perspective is not so much private but public; nevertheless its publicity is built in interaction and the semantics of interactions would be appreciated once o ne realizes the grammatical distinction (in existential sense not lingual sense) between actions and behaviors in American Pragmatic philosophy. As in Weberian sociology the grammar of actions are fundamentally different than Pavlovian physiology of behaviours, the idea of interactions and the existentialogy of ‘the significant other’ within Goffmanian sociology would be incomprehensible if in the heat of interactions the authenticity of the actions denigrated and slipped into mere behaviours. People present their selves in a particular way, and in interaction, these definitions of the self are upheld and reinforced, e.g. people are polite to protect their own as well as others’ definitions of selves. The presentation of self in the front stage, created in the back stage, can be manipulative. People present a line, a face, and this face, while it is often unrealistic and unreal should be always consistent. Most of Goffman’s attention goes to the different techniques and processes that are involved with the constitution of the self in interaction. This includes the use of props to present one’s self, the control of the audience, and impression management. The techniques of impression management include: the concealment of the secret pleasures of previous performances, the concealment of errors, concealment of the process of the performance (only showing the end-product), concealment of dirty-work, and mystification, i.e. performers create a social distance so that the audience cannot question the actor and grasp the semantics of the actions. These techniques can be seen as means of self-control, that is, dramaturgical discipline to handle or avoid embarrassment, which may have existential repercussions. Note that the audience is also involved in efforts to cover up this fakeness of the performance. Usually, all performers have an interest in maintaining the totality, coherence and smoothness of the performance. Goffman writes, the self is in part a ceremonial thing, a sacred object, which must be treated with pro per ritual care. Social interaction in modern society (and only in modern society) requires us to act as if we have a self, but it is a myth; the self is the (real) ideology of the modern everyday. What gives Goffman's work a value that displays intercivilizational significance is its intense individual humanity and its existential concerns with the semantics of meaning in relation to the grammar of self. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life he provides us with an introduction to the nourishment of the self in only normally problematic situations - in the social establishments that are part of everyday life, interaction with people who are reasonably well equipped and well inclined to collaborate in sustaining mutually agreeable definitions of self. Individuals work their performance so as to provide others with the materials by which they infer that a creditable self confronts them. The self is seen as the product of the various means by which it is produced and maintained. In Goffman's summary words, there are the back regions with its tools for shaping the body, and a front region with its fixed props. "There will be a team of persons whose activity on stage in conjunction with available props will constitute the scene from which the performed character's self will emerge, and another team, the audience, whose interpretive activity will be necessary for this enterprise. The self is a product of all of those arrangements, and in all of its parts bears the marks of this genesis. (1959, 253) An interesting notion derived from Goffman that there are numerous selves. The self can be simply defined as: the code that makes sense out of almost all the individual’s activities and provides a basis for organizing them, but this code can differ from situation to situation. The fact that people have different roles to play and different selves to present, and the fact that the audience has different expectations and thus creates different selves, can lead to problems (tensions between different selves), a dynamic shift between roles, or a multiple presentation of selves (as well as coping mechanisms to deal with these discrepancies). Under normal circumstances or existential equilibrium (where the forces of alienation and realization are to certain extent balanced and one is able to harness or cope with external sources of anxieties as well as internal personal demons), however, it turns out that people are quite capable of handling these multiple, fluctuating, situational selves. The multiplicity of selves is also clear from a consideration of role-distance. Role-distance refers to the degree to which people separate themselves from the role they play (while they’re playing it). People play roles in a double fashion: they enact the role and distance themselves from it. Role-distance is a function of social status: people in low status roles are more defensive in their role-distance (ashamed of their role). For Goffman it seems, there is no real self, only a multiplicity of selves, as long as the existential kernel of the self is ontologically tied to the reproducible moments of social roles that are devoid of authentic actualization. These selves are not pre-determined fractures but emerge in the course of action that unfolds itself at the stage of modernity. (Goffman, 1959)
One of the more interesting questions raised by the dramaturgical perspective is whether the playing of roles implies a lack of authenticity and honesty in social actors. (Brisset, 1990). Goffman's position is that there is nothing inherently unreal about the scripts and parts we play, that they in fact reflect real aspects of our complex selves. Roles are real and authentic parts of who we are, not false masks that cover up some deeper self. This Goffmanian position in relation to modernity as a stage becomes ever-more important once this problematique is set in its wider cultural debates about the impact of modernity and technological innovations on the individual self in the writings of great Western thinkers such as Ellul (1964), McLuhan (1962) and Mumford (1934).
These authors have written about the impact of modernity and technological innovation on the individual-in-society. They, among many others, talk about how technology alters the understanding of self in the world, contracting things such as time and space, and changing firmly held constructions about human existence as well as the boundaries of humane and inhumane beliefs and practices. An extension of this line of analysis in conjunction with Goffmanian discourse would provide a powerful sociological apparatus of intellectual significance in confronting global problems and intercivilizational concerns of modernities by exposing the highly detrimental impact of existential apprehensions that envelope our planetary existence that have cultural as well as material causes.
Modernity and Sociability in Everyday Life
Erving Goffman (1959) provides a detailed description and analysis of process and meaning in mundane interaction. Goffman, as a product of the Chicago School, writes from a symbolic interactionist perspective, emphasizing a qualitative analysis of the component parts of the interactive process. Through a microsociological analysis and focus on unconventional subject matter, Goffman explores the details of modernity as individual identity, sociability as group relations, the impact of modern environment, and the movement and interactive meaning of information. His perspective, though limited in scope, provides new insight into the nature of social interaction and the psychology of the individual and the relation between society and self as appears in cultural expressions such as angst, absurd, authenticity, and anxiety significant idioms for an intercivilizational dialogue.
Goffman employs a "dramaturgical approach" in his study, concerning himself with the mode of presentation employed by the actor and its meaning in the broader social context (1959, 240). Interaction is viewed as a "performance," shaped by environment and audience, constructed to provide others with "impressions" that are consonant with the desired goals of the actor. The performance exists regardless of the mental state of the individual, as persona is often imputed to the individual in spite of his or her lack of faith in -- or even ignorance of -- the performance. Goffman uses the example of the doctor who is forced to give a placebo to a patient, fully aware of its significance, as a result of the desire of the patient for more extensive treatment (1959. 18). In this manner, the individual develops identity or persona as a function of interaction with others, through an exchange of information that allows for more particular definitions of identity and behavior.
The process of establishing social identity, then, becomes closely allied to the concept of the "front," which is described as "that part of the individual's performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance" (1959. 22). The front acts as a vehicle of standardization, allowing for others to understand the individual on the basis of projected character traits that have normative meanings, which enables the semantics of sociability turn to a comprehensible symbolic canopy within modern intercivilizationally complex stage. As a "collective representation," the front establishes proper "setting," "appearance," and "manner" for the social role assumed by the actor, uniting interactive behavior with the personal front (1959. 27). The actor, in order to present a compelling front, is forced to both fill the duties of the social role and communicate the activities and characteristics of the role to other people in a coherent way.
This process, known as "dramatic realization" (1959. 30), is predicated upon the activities of "impression management," the control (or lack of control) and communication of information through the performance (1959. 208). In constructing a front, information about the actor is given off through a variety of communicative sources, all of which must be controlled to effectively convince the audience of the appropriateness of behavior and consonance with the role assumed. Believability, as a result, is constructed in terms of verbal signification, which is used by the actor to establish intent, and non-verbal signification, which is used by the audience to verify the honesty of statements made by the individual. Attempts are made to present an "idealized" version of the front, more consistent with the norms, mores, and laws of society than the behavior of the actor when not before an audience (1959. 35). Information dealing with aberrant behavior and belief is hidden from the audience in a process of "mystification," making prominent those characteristics that are socially sanctioned, legitimating both the social role of the individual and the framework to which the role belongs (1959. 67). The grammar of this process is not devoid of existential concerns and neurotic backlashes, which would consistently endanger the sociability pattern within modern context of everdaydness at local as well as global stage.
Goffman explores nature of group dynamics through a discussion of "teams" and the relationship between performance and audience. He uses the concept of the team to illustrate the work of a group of individuals who "co-operate" in performance, attempting to achieve goals sanctioned by the group (1959. 79). Co-operation may reveal itself as unanimity in demeanor and behavior or in the assumption of differing roles for each individual, determined by the desired intent in performance. Goffman refers to the "shill," a member of the team who "provides a visible model for the audience of the kind of response the performers are seeking," promoting psychological excitement for the realization of a (generally monetary) goal, as an example of a "discrepant role" in the team (1959. 146). In each circumstance, the individual assumes a front that is perceived to enhance the scope of sociability in relation to group's performance.
The necessity of each individual to keep his or her front in order to promote the team performance reduces the possibility of dissent by conversely increasing the possibility of existential anxiety within the social self as divided between a conformist public self and a neurotic private self. Or a self that is caught between dilemmas of authenticity and insincerity as expressed in the story of Nagel. While the unifying elements of the team are often shallower and less complete than the requirements of performance, the individual actor feels a strong pressure to conform to the desired front in the presence of an audience, as deviance destroys the credibility of the entire performance. As a result, disagreement is carried out in the absence of an audience, where ideological and performance changes may be made without the threat of damage to the goals of the team, as well as the character of the individual. In this way, a clear division is made between team and audience.
Goffman describes the division between team performance and audience in terms of "region," describing the role of setting in the differentiation of actions taken by individuals (1959. 107). Extending the dramaturgical analysis, he divides region into "front," "back," and "outside" the stage, contingent upon the relationship of the audience to the performance. While the "official stance" of the team is visible in their frontstage presentation, in the backstage, "the impression fostered by the presentation is knowingly contradicted as a matter of course," indicating a more "truthful" type of performance (1959. 112). In the backstage, the conflicts, dilemmas, paradoxes and differences inherent to familiarity are more fully explored, often evolving into a secondary type of presentation, contingent upon the absence of the responsibilities of the team presentation. To be outside the stage involves the inability to gain access to the performance of the team, described as an "audience segregation" in which specific performances are given to particular audiences, allowing the team to contrive the proper front for the demands of each audience (1959. 137). This allows the team, individual actor, and audience to preserve proper relationships in interaction and the establishments to which the interactions belong.
Goffman’s early concern with the question of sociability and modernity as it appeared in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, though detailed, does not, it is generally understood, provide a comprehensive description of interactive processes. In exploring the construction of presentation among individual and teams, Goffman does not fully explore the nature of the context of ‘Everyday Life’ (Modern? Traditional? Caught between Modernity and Traditionality? Developed? Underdeveloped?) or the nature of marginalized individuals, the importance of ritual or ceremony in the dramaturgy, or the construction of character. A reading of these complementary notions from Goffman's later work, including Stigma and Interaction Ritual, provides a vehicle for expanding the analysis of the interaction of everyday life into the broader experiences of human interaction in an intercivilizational perspective concerned with existential concerns, dilemmas and paradoxes.
The pressure of idealized conduct is most obviously seen in marginalized people, whose deviance forces them into "discredited" or "discreditable" groups, based on the nature of their stigma (Goffman 1963, 42). The importance of impression management is most visible with these individuals, as those who are discredited must assuage the tension their stigma causes in order to successfully interact with others, while those suffering from a discrediting stigma are forced to limit the access of others to information about the stigma or assume the character of a discredited individual. The emphasis on idealized, normative identity and conduct limits the ability of the discredited individual to achieve full acceptance by the population that one is forced to assimilate into. For the discreditable individual who attempts to "pass" and employ "disidentifiers" to establish oneself as "normal" (1963. 44), feelings of ambivalence and alienation emerge as a result of limited social intercourse. These feelings, whose sociological bases have long been of grand concern to social thinkers, who attempted -in the line of Marx, Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer, Fromm, Tillich and many others- to catalogue and interrelate the causes of psychological dis-ease and social harm as consequences of modernity are what existential sociology does and could do more in an intercivilizational perspective. Ultimately, the existence of a stigma of any type, a part of the existence of a large segment of the population, changes the nature of impression management and, hence, interaction.
In his essay "Face Work," from Interaction Ritual, Goffman expands on the concept of the "line," originally employed in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, dealing with the definition of line in terms of ritualized, symbolic action (Goffman 1967, 4). Symbol, as with the three types of symbolic imagery described in Stigma, stigma symbols, prestige symbols, and disidentifiers (Goffman 1963, 43-44), assume a more abstract location in the communicative process (as the significant source of communion that would rectify the erosive progress of alienation within modernity), a reification of verbal cues. The face reflects the line imputed by others, regardless of cognizance of its existence, to the actor, based on the use of verbal and non-verbal symbols, either affirming or denying a social construct. In this way a means of locating the actor in the interactive process and the broader society, allowing Goffman to affirm George Herbert Mead's argument that identity is constructed through an understanding of the projection of the self to others.
The vehicle for the construction of the character and identity can be seen in Goffman's article "Where The Action Is." The emphasis on the movement between social spaces, similar to his discussion of audience segregation and the "presence of third parties" (1963. 42), underscores the importance of the recreation of the self in different environments. To fully define the contours of sociability within modernity as expressed by the human self, Goffman argues, it involves performance in voluntary, consequential action, which is not fully available in everyday life. As a result, individuals are drawn to activities that involve risk-taking, such as gambling and bullfighting. Ultimately, the experience of action may become more important than social perception in defining character. As Goffman states:
Although fateful enterprises are often respectable, there are many character contests and scenes of serious action that are not. Yet these are the occasions and places that show respect for the moral character. Not only in mountain ranges that invite the climber, but also in casinos, pool halls, and racetracks do we find worship; it may be in churches, where the guarantee is high that nothing will occur, that the moral sensibility is weak (1963. 268).
In this sense, Goffman depicts extraordinary circumstances as a means of developing the character central to the experience of everyday life. The relationship between the forces that shape society and the individual becomes clearer once one is ready to abandon (or at least be aware of) the modernist assumption within social theory that claims one needs to know the whole of society in order to know a single self. Instead one could learn what society is by knowing the whole of a public self as in Sartre's studies of Baudelaire, Genet, Mallarme, and Flaubert.
An important link may be made between Goffman and Durkheim in an inquiry into the concept of "spontaneity." In The Presentation of Self, the importance of spontaneity emerges as an aspect of the performance, as the actor seeks to create a front that does not appear to be contrived. Spontaneity, as Goffman develops it (1957, 49-50), allows for the realization of the "true" self, an idealized type of interaction that allows the individual to realize a desired face. In The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim describes a macrosociological model of spontaneity, a "finely articulated organization in which each social value...is appreciated at its true worth" (1984. 313). Durkheim, though primarily concerned with labor, describes a type of social interaction that, like Goffman's model, reaffirms the existing social environment through the notion of "truth." Each individual is bound to the contemporary social organization, while attempting to realize a sense of freedom in expressing truth., because one may be able to lie (to others) but one cannot ‘live’ (in its profoundest sense of Leben) without ‘truth’ (how limited or shallow one’s understanding is of it).
Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony extends this relationship further, establishing an ephemeral unconscious acceptance of existing social institutions. Change in this state, for Gramsci, takes place via change in human consciousness:
Since present control is internalized in the minds and hearts of workers and peasants, a counter form of socialization, a counter form of self-identity, is required to overthrow that control (Roger Gottlieb, 1992. 120).
Through changes in human mind, hegemony forms an "moving equilibrium" (Hebdige 1979, 15) through an assimilation of the doctrinal bases of the culture through "common sense". In light of Goffman's work, hegemony in the context of modernity provides the definition of "idealized" performance and the pressure to correspond to established definition. As a representation of what Marx termed "the ideas of the ruling class" (Marx 1848, 172) hegemony provides the norms, mores, and laws to which stigma, line, face, and Durkheim's anomie can be applied in an intercivilizationally dialogical as well as dialectical sense. In this sense, hegemony provides a vital link between the macrostructure of intercivilizational-social institutions and the microsociological phenomena of face-to-face interaction by people from different civilizations in public arena at a global stage.
Goffmanian discourse on forms of ‘Alienation’ by cataloging the precarious state of conversation that would lead the individual into some form of ‘Alienation’ (1957, 49-50) provides penetrating insight into the nature of interpersonal interaction and the institutions to which interaction more strongly applies. Despite an unusual, anecdotal methodology, Goffmanesque discourse displays an uncommon analytical rigor in dealing with a comparatively unexplored area of social thought that matters vitally for the existence of self and society by illustratively distinguishing between ‘self-centeredness’ and ‘self-consciousness’ and their respective relevance for dialogue in relation to intercivilizational-existential issues and concerns. (1957. 50) Through an inquiry into the everyday life of humanity, the Goffmanian discourse is aimed to provide a strong foundation for the understanding of microsociological phenomena, an understanding bolstered by an investigation of other dramaturgical issues that may inform the underlying textures of existential issues at intercivilizational levels. By limiting his work to a dramaturgical study, however, Goffman might be interpreted as though he has eliminated the possibility of applying the activities of the mundane world to the larger social world. This problem is more of chimerical character than real. Because of the fact that Goffman writes about Modernity as a world where the human self is in need to expand the frontiers of ‘personal functions’. Additionally it should be noted that the motto is not ‘sincerity’ anymore as the aspiration of human self in Goffmanian sociology as many continental existentialists, ought to be with the ‘authenticity’. The distinction between ‘self-centeredness’ and ‘self-consciousness’ provides Goffman with a philosophical hook to argue about the necessity for individuals to be able to draw a distinction between the self that themselves know and the self that they show to the outer world by highlighting the significance of the ‘stage’ – which could be stretched to include the entire fabric of cultures, civilizations, nation-states and the interactions them-between. As Goffman himself aptly notes in relation to the forms of ‘Alienation’ in modern Anglo-American society (1957. 47-49) to keep the distinction is a very precarious task due to the fact that ‘’ … conjoint involvement appears to be a fragile thing …’’ (1957. 49).p This seemingly conversational forms of alienation is deeply related to the very mega-structures of modern society whereby the individual loses control over who, and when the inner self can be scrutinized by the outer world. The loss can seriously disrupt feelings of ontological security, and, cause existential anxiety. (Goffman, 1959) What causes anxiety within the context of human sociability are the fear of ‘disintegration’ and danger of ‘alienation’ that are not existentially unrelated to the forms of alienating distractions. (1957. 53) In ‘Alienation From Interaction’ (1957. 55) Goffman investigates these modern processes in relation to the signs of ‘Boredom’ in close alliance with existential psychoanalytic thinkers such as Ralph Greenson, Otto Fenichel and J. D. Salinger. Firstly it should be noted that Goffman similar to many symbolic interactionists focuses on process instead of structure, specifically on the process of meaningful human communication and considers any disruption within this field (and consequent manifestations of boredom within this domain) as problematic. Goffman stresses, much to the bafflement of European sociologists, the significance of persons' perceptions and definitions of the situation in structuring social behaviour, as well as constructing shared meanings in the process of interaction. The image of society held by him is a web of communication. Social life is visualized as a dynamic process. Society and person take on their meanings as these emerge in and through social interaction. Implicit in this image is a conception of human beings as "minded" a nd not "mindless", as active and creative rather than passively responsive. This is an image that insists on a degree of indeterminacy in human behaviour, in the sense that the course and the outcome of social interaction cannot be totally predicted from the knowledge of the structural parameters. Goffman demonstrates this very eloquently in ‘signs of boredom’, which is deeply related to existential wisdom of the European Philosophy. He holds that to manifest
‘’signs of boredom is an inconsiderate thing. But in certain way he who does so assures the others he is not affecting something that is not felt [this is not wholly different than the idea of authenticity and its ambiguity within Existential Philosophy]; they at least know where they stand with him. It … is an interesting fact that when the self of the boring individual is deeply committed to the proceedings, … then the bored individual is likely to feel a strong compunction to conceal signs of alienation and … . It is thus at the most poignant and crucial moments of life that the individual is often forced t be the most contriving; these, too, will be the times when the boring individual will be in greatest need of candor from others and least able to bear receiving it’’ (1957. 55).
I have been illustratively elaborating Goffmanian discourse in relation to intercivilizational concerns of existential nature by putting forward a thesis, which ultimately should lead to a re-reading of Goffman (and hopefully sociological discourse in general) in an existentialist sense. This practice would provide a powerful tool in bringing various social thinkers and philosophers from different civilizations by focusing on humanistic (related to humanity) dilemmas, concerns, paradoxes, problems and apprehensions, which envelop the planetary globe of ours at this juncture of humanity’s destiny as a species. This practice is based on a working-hypothesis that puts forward a proposal that is premised on an intervention to re-read sociological concerns in terms of larger existential predicaments (that affect both society and individual self as well as modern and traditional civilizations), which would enable us as intellectuals to overcome accusations of ‘Eurocentrism versus anti-Eurocentrism’ (Multiculturalism versus anti-Multiculturalism) by focusing on paradoxes of modernity at an intercivilizational level based on sociological idioms of ‘dialogue’ and ‘dialectic’. It has been argued illustratively that Goffman is an instrumental in such a sociological-intercivilizational project of dialogical character and dialectical dynamism.
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