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“People are more concerned with being NORMAL than with being NATURAL.”


Erving Goffman (June 11, 1922 – November 19, 1982)


“Today, image is all important…”

Because of the way people are socialized, they try to craft and project a socially meaningful image. We all do this to some extent. Those of you who are familiar with the TV show LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, the character Eddie Haskel comes to mind. He manages his impression depending on who he is interacting with. He crafts one image for parents and yet another for his peers.

The media has been complicit in this phenomenon. Its institutionalized images have come to define how people actually think they want to live (rich, skinny, etc). Today, image is all important; even if maintaining the image may incur personal harm. For instance, we put hair where it doesn’t belong and shave off hair where it does belong. In short, these days people try to be “normal” rather than “natural.” But few people can actually look and act like the mediated images mass produced for a media-intensive society. So instead of attention being distributed face-to-face, it is now mass distributed via the media. Substance has taken a backseat to style and style has become so pronounced, it’s almost completely eclipsed substance. Not to mention that some of the people who do match the mediated images often can’t handle the attention it draws to them. It’s THAT lop-sided. It probably doesn’t help that we exist in a sound bite reality. Substance doesn’t have time to sink in.



Goffman used the metaphor of LIFE as THEATER. That is, while engaged in social interaction, we are social “actors” performing for “audiences.” Goffman admitted that in dramaturgy, psychology is involved. However, according to him, it is stripped and cramped into sociology. That is social life begins with social actors, or as Goffman himself put it, “Not men and their moments, but moments and their men.” Goffman afforded the social “moment” analytical priority over the psychological.The social scene is paramount. Dramaturgy isn’t interested in any one individual; even though it’s the individuals that ultimately do the acting and interacting; plotting; scheming; interpreting; wooing; conning; and all the other activities that require image management and maintenance. It’s still about the group and behavior patterns.

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“Act your age.”

Roles:  Role theory claims that roles define us and prescribe how we are supposed to act in various social circumstances. We role-take as well as role-make (we tend to put our own spin on the roles we adopt). This was the difference for Goffman, and this is the important part. He claimed that actors first chose the role they feel like enacting. They chose the role from a variety of possibilities. Many roles exists for their choosing. Once chosen, enacting them is an art in itself. Read more about how roles affect  our behavior … 

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“Reality is one thing; perception is everything.”

According to Goffman, the entire purpose of social action is geared toward IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT (image maintenance) during social encounters. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways; using a variety of items to make your act more believable. Read more about how ALL pople “front” …

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“All the world’s a stage.”

Front Stage: where we perform (usually to some sort of “audience”). Front stage is NOT a “place.” Front and back stages are defined by the activity taking place. If you’re performing for someone else, it’s most likely front stage. Read more about how we “act” for others…

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“A look behind the scenes.”

Back Stage: where we prepare for our front stage performances. We can “let down our act” when we are back stage. Back stage areas allow us an area to prepare for the front stage performance. If you can be yourself completely, it’s probably because you’re back stage. Read more about what people do behind the scenes …

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“The more believable you are, the more likely they will buy your act.”

Performance: is the actual “acting” of the “role” we’ve decided to present to a specific, targeted audience. This is an on-going activity. We perform at different roles: mom, daughter, sister, student, club leader. Read more about we chose roles to enact in front of others …

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“What kind of car do you drive?”

Props: articles that help us enhance our performances. The process of impression management. People tend to emphasize and accentuate the positive while simultaneously avoiding or limiting the negative. Props are items that make our acts more believable. Read more about how people use things to enhance their believabilty … 

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“Boys will be boys.”

Scripts: where we get our prescriptions for behavior. Read more about where we get our patterns for behavior …

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“Watch this.”

Givingis purposeful communication. The actor is aware that they are communicating purposeful information. Read more about pourposeful behavior …

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“Oops, Freudian slip!”

Giving-Off is accidental or non-purposeful communication. The actor is NOT aware of the fact that they are communicating accidental or perhaps even unintended information. Read more about how people communicate information they aren’t aware of …

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“I’ve never done this before.”

Covering move: a move intended to hide the truth about something. This move is designed to give advantage to the person hiding the potentially damaging information. Usually the information hidden runs counter to the person’s projected image (presentation of self). (Example: someone in the dating scene may hide the fact that they are on Prozac or that they have a criminal record, such as a felony conviction, or a DUI.) Read more about how people try to hide negative aspects of their personal lives …

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“When did you first know you liked me?”

Uncovering Move: is a move designed to uncover factual information one feels another may be hiding. The uncovering move is normally “tricky” in nature and is designed to assess the other person’s “true” motive for engaging in some activity. Normally an uncovering move is an attempt to gain advantage. It’s a trick move used to find out what’s “really going on.” Read more about how to find out people’s true motives …

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“It was an accident; I swear.”

Counter-Uncovering Move: is a reaction to an attempted uncovering move. Once some information is “found out” or discovered, the person attempts to redefine the situation and couch it in a more favorable light. In short, they attempt to put Humpty back together again and “undo” the damage. Read more about how some people are good at talking their way out of trouble … 

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“Get your head in the game!”

Involvement Contourthe appropriate pace of action; or how engrossed an actor is in their scene or activity. An actor can be too involved, correctly involved, or they may be under-involved. Then again they may act like they are not involved with their scene. Each of these involvement statuses “gives-off” something about their motive for their involvement in the scene in the first place. Women are normally aware of the social nuances involved with their scenes. Women also tend to develop a keener sense of what is “really” happening in their social surroundings; in much more detail than their male counterparts. They can see things clearly, even in their peripheral view. Men: not so much. My mom always said that “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” If a person is good at reading what others give off, they then possess a social advantage over those who aren’t so keen at reading people.  Read more about how “involement” is measured to find out others’ true intentions are … 

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“”Whose side are you on?”

TeamsPeople often cooperate in their performances, thus forming a team. A performance depends on all members of any particular team. Though members of a team, the members have to play for themselves as well.  Read more about how certain groups tend to side with each other … 

Some EXAMPLES of TEAM play

The Sting (1973)


The Sting Movie

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fast times logo


Fast Times Damone’s Five-Point Plan

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HEART-LOGO-blue-background1Getting Started …  
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website 2 ESTABLISHING: Getting into a relationship …
website 3 MAINTAINING: Staying in a relationship … 
 website 4 BREAKING UP: Getting out of a relationship…

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