Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapther 6.2 The presentation of self in everyday life

6.2 The presentation of self in everyday life

Goffman also promoted the idea that emotions were created through taking the viewpoint of the other, but to a much smaller degree than Cooley; he was more concerned with embarrassment than shame. But Goffman showed the connection between embarrassment and taking the viewpoint of the other more than Cooley and definitely to a greater degree than Mead, by giving a large number of examples. Goffman (1959/1990) uses a figure called “Everyperson” who is desperately worried about ones self image in the eyes of others. “Everyperson” always tries to present himself from ones best side. Goffman also made an important sociological point about embarrassment, which, in his opinion, had to do with having committed some kind of offence. Embarrassment could arise whether the “offence” was real or not; it might simply be an anticipated offence or just a fantasy. Furthermore, the person who feels embarrassed may disregard how commonplace the offence might seem to an outside observer.
Goffman focused primarily on the micro world of emotions and relationships, and this is the foundation of his whole approach. Social Science is traditionally more concerned with behavior and cognition. Goffman realized (Scheff 2006) that conventional social and behavioral science was blind to emotions and relationships. Consequently, he tried to attack the problem by making the invisible (backstage), visible. To do this he had to create a new vocabulary and a new point of view. He realized that most people live in the world of “everyday life”. In this everyday life a lot of our time and energy is devoted to relationships and emotions. In his work on relationships, Goffman was especially concerned with the emotions of embarrassment and shame, and with loneliness, disconnectedness, and alienation.

Goffman adopted Cooley’s idea of the “looking-glass self” and took it a step further; he added a fourth step to the three mentioned by Cooley above by focusing on how we use the emotions we have. His conclusion is in my opinion that we most of the time use a lot of energy trying to avoid some emotions and cultivating others. We suppress emotions that we perceive as signs of weakness, and exaggerate emotions we believe give the impression of strength. Goffman was concerned with the words and gestures we use as signs and symbols. In Interaction Ritual (Goffman 1967/2006) he writes:

The human tendency to use signs and symbols means that evidence of social worth and of mutual evaluations will be conveyed by minor things, and these things will be witnessed, as will the fact that they have been witnessed. An unguarded glance, a momentary change of voice, an ecological position taken or not taken, can drench a talk with judgmental significance. Therefore, just as there is no occasion of talk in which improper impressions could not intentionally or unintentionally arise, so there is no occasion of talk so trivial as not to require each participant to show serious concern with the way in which he handles himself and the others present (Goffman 1967/2006: 33).
Kaare T. Pettersen

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