Topic: Family, Life & ExperiencesEmotions

Last updated: March 6, 2019

Goffman generally compares society to a drama in which he further lays out the concepts of the backstage and the front. However, it may be more useful to look at Charles Cooley’s ‘Looking-Glass’ theory of the self to understand the ways we see our self whilst revealing the role of our peers (Cooley, C.H, 1902). The fully embodied self is embraced in the backstage where there is more of a conflict between the character and performer.

This is because the backstage allows a less strict environment for the performer to step out of character and relax, which clashes with the actual self (Bullingham, L. and Vasconcelos, A.C, 2013). In support of this, the reality show ‘The X Factor’ has the aim of finding the next big star. Although some contestants do not have the best singing voice, they still have the ability to make their way to the finale. This is because they must have other benefits such as being attractive or funny which can be viewed as useful for the end result in performing for the Queen. Contestants backstage can step out of character but on stage must maintain an ideal persona.

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Because of this, they usually end up misrepresenting themselves onstage, deceiving the audiences into believing things that have no basis in reality, highlighting that the audience could misunderstand the performer. If contestants make it to the finale, they may later mystify their performance to uphold this unrealistic image of themselves. Contestants therefore learn how to gradually perform onstage which builds their onstage character (Zavattaro, S.M, 2013). By doing this, they make the audience judge them in a positive way such as being funny even though the aim of the show is to sing rather than to be comical. Nonetheless, a disadvantage is that by referring to our social attitudes as “fronts”, is that it can make them feel like a facade which ruins the overall idea of our “true self”.

To understand the presentation of the self in better depth, Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self” theory is more useful to look at as it explains how our interactions with others help define who we are as people. The theory encompasses three stages in which we first envision how others perceive us, for example we may believe that others view us as being funny. After this we will evaluate if they like or dislike our character for being funny.

Finally, we develop a self-concept based on the reactions of others. This highlights that our self-image stems from how others think of us. Ultimately this will help an individual’s self-image grow due to their social interactions with others which is realistic for many age ranges. Goffman’s ideas do not consider the constructed parts of the self, entitled ‘I’ and ‘Me’. He assumes that the self can be developed at any time, (Aboulafia, M.

ed, 1991) acknowledges that Mead asserts one’s self-identity is shaped during their childhood. Meads central argument in ‘Mind, Self, and Society’ is that young children generally do not care about how other people view them and would not consider perceptions of them unless they are positive. (Mead and Reck, 1981) state that Meads ‘I’ and ‘Me’ establish the self and are present in the language and play stages of child development. The ‘Me’ helps manipulate performances to see how we would respond to social situations. Alternatively, the ‘I’ is planned, suggesting that our future and present actions are determined by our past actions. (Mead, G.

H, 1934) in ‘Mind Self and Society’ also stresses that the language stage helps children develop complex interactions by expressing emotions. For instance, the connotations and tone of saying “I am happy!” will help communicate to others how the child feels about themselves. The play stage helps advance self-consciousness. A child may pretend to be a teacher helping them to mentally assume the perspectives of others. Children create social interactions rather than simply imitating. When pretending to be teacher, they use their imagination of how they believe teachers act rather than copying what a teacher typically does.

In support of this, (Noam, G.G, 1990) emphasises that a child will struggle to understand life from any other viewpoint apart than their own. Because of this, the child is very concerned about themselves ‘I’ and ‘Me’, where egocentrism plays a huge part in their life as children (Piaget, 1951). Meads theory on the self-construct contrasts to Goffman’s as rather than considering the ‘I’ and ‘Me’, Goffman places more importance on dramatic realisation. (Nelson, 2009) states that this is true as a performer will select certain characteristics which they want the audience to know, demonstrating that understanding the self in everyday interactions differs depending on which parts of the self we take into consideration. Because of this, the idea of the self is not the same for each person and will differ amongst factors such as age and gender which will correspondingly affect how we present the self. In conclusion, Erving Goffman’s work on ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ takes inspiration from theatrical performances which contribute to the understanding of the self as well as the presentation in everyday life.

The factors mentioned discuss how social pressures determine the ways in which people act when they present themselves on a day to day basis. However, when considering important aspects such as the front, its useful to understand that many components work collectively together. Other theorists such as Cooley and Mead contribute to help us evaluate Goffman’s work where we can focus on age and the role of other people. This is beneficial as Goffman’s conclusions are slightly questionable as his study does not support the idea that age and the influence of others play a big part in the presentation of the self in everyday life, while other theorists do.


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