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Blog Post #2

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1. Describe the "continuum of roles" one might play in life, according to Goffman. What does it mean to be "sincere" vs. being a "cynic?" Give your own examples of someone on either end of the continuum, then use your example to illustrate how someone might alter their belief in the role they play over time.

In this reading, Goffman uses the analogy of life being a stage and the people in it being actors. Different actors take their roles more seriously than others, some totally believing in the role that they play and some are just putting on a show. This is what Goffman means by the "continuum of roles". At one end are the "sincere" actors who are totally consumed by there roles and are as convinced of their role as the audience is. An example that comes to mind is a high school teenager. They partake in the fashions and language that the other children use so they can be "cool" an impress the popular kids. By partaking in this behavior, they become to believe that they are cool and trendy. At the other end of the continuum are the "cynics". These actors are only putting on an act for some kind of ulterior motive, such as for the benefit of the audience, though some "cynics" have no concern for their audiences beliefs and some might even get pleasure from "tricking" their audience into believing their act. An example of a "cynic" could be a patients at a mental hospital. When they have visitors, they feel the need to act out in fits so their visitors wouldn't be disappointed with a "sane performance". Goffman also discusses that these acts we put on are like masks we put on. These masks may represent a person that we want to be, such as using the fine china and dressing better when having a dinner guest. The person might want to look more upper class or make their upper class guest feel more comfortable. It is possible for the actor to change his view from "sincere" to "cynic" and vice versa over time. An example would be a person moving from the country to a large city. They start dressing trendier and going to coffee shops, trying to act as if they weren't from a different type of society. They want everyone to believe that they are a "city person" as well and soon enough, they will start to believe that they actually are as trendy and urban as they were acting before. A persons' act can also go the other way on the continuum, from sincere to cynic. The example of someone in a religious context such as a preacher is used in the text. At first, the actor is absolutely convinced of what he is preaching and believes every words that he says as he would have his audience believe. But, as time passes, he may start to see holes in his beliefs and slowly start to realize that he has doubts about his sermons. But for the sake of his congregation, he continues the mask. Goffman explains that the roles that we strive to fill, the masks that we wear, are the people that we want to be. That mask can be better than our actual selves or worse, depending on the society that we are trying to fit into.

1. Describe the "continuum of roles" one might play in life, according to Goffman. What does it mean to be "sincere" vs. being a "cynic?" Give your own examples of someone on either end of the continuum, then use your example to illustrate how someone might alter their belief in the role they play over time.

One plays different roles for the benefit of others according to Goffman. He also said that when someone plays a role they want the audience to take seriously what is being presented to them regardless if they believe in what is being presented. There are two extremes to the roles we play in life. One is sincere role playing where an individual believes in what they are expressing by their own performance. The other extreme is cynical role playing where the performer has no belief in his own performance and no concern for the beliefs of the audience, but someone who is playing a cynical role isn't always doing it for self-interest but for the benefit of the audience. That what they are performing will benefit them in some way but they are not concerned by how.
A sincere performer could be a preacher who truly believes in their preaching, and believes that it is benefiting the individual and the community for the greater good. An example of a cynical performer is a Politian giving a speech about a current issue that they personally don't have any interest in or care about the audience's interest in the issue, but they are doing it for the benefit of the community. There are exceptions to these roles, for example an exception to cynical role playing is that the performers are forced to be cynical because their audiences will not allow them to be sincere. An example of this exception is the nurse rechecking the monitor for a nervous woman. There is also an example of an exception to sincere role play where the customers telling the cook that the food was great to avoid hurting their feelings.
A performer who may alter the role they are playing over time could be a teacher. They may really be sincere in believing in a lecture that they are giving on a topic that they think will benefit the students. Then another topic that they are lecturing about they may be cynical about it because they don't believe in it and don't care if the students get anything from it they are just doing it because it is required. I believe we are always bouncing from each extreme of the roles in our everyday life. There isn't always going to be things that we are sincere about which will force us to put on a cynical performance to please the audience.

Goffman:
1. When performing a role, the social player may be considered as occupying a position along a continuum from "cynical" to "sincere." The cynical player believes that he is lying. He is aware that he is merely playing a role and projecting something other than his own personal truth. The sincere player, on the other hand, believes wholeheartedly in his role. If he does not believe that it is his true self, then he believes it is a truth which he is trying to achieve. I will draw examples of two such polar players from the modern Batman films. James Gordon is the sincere Sergeant/Commissioner of the Gotham Police Department. Everyone knows that he is a "straight man" working for the renewal of Gotham. He doesn't maintain any false pretenses. He keeps people's secrets, he loves his family, and does his job. There's no other face to his story. A cynic would be Bruce Wayne. The role that Bruce Wayne plays is that of a fun-loving, indulgent, well-meaning billionaire. His true self, however, is Batman--a serious, crime-fighting hero. Of course, not everyone exists as a perfect cynic or perfectly sincere person. Many people exist along the continuum, or change places throughout their life. For example, Officer Ramirez (in the Dark Knight) starts out as on honest cop, but this turns into a fa├žade when she begins accepting bribes to pay her mother's hospital bills.
2. As I have hinted, Goffman really uses the idea of interaction as role-taking. Thus, every interaction is a "performance." Those interacting are playing parts. They are doing this amongst physical context such as props and setting, which are called the "front." The front also consists of things attached to the actor, such as appearance and body language, which are specified as the "personal front." Personal front can then be divided into (a) "appearance" and (b) "manner." Appearance reflects social status and social context. For example, someone wearing a suit is probably at a formal event, and the quality or style of their suit probably says something about their social class. Manner, on the other hand, reveals what role a person expects to play in a situation. Someone who makes eye contact with you probably wants to engage in conversation. Goffman uses more refined examples of how posture can indicate whether you intend to lead or follow in a conversation. We can apply all of these terms to Batman. Whenever he does anything social he is performing. His front is very indicative of his performance. If he is hosting a fundraiser, he will be in his penthouse. If he is fighting crime, he will be in dirty alleys and dark buildings. He uses props such as his armour and Bat-gear, fine cars, and ostentatious displays of wealth (such as buying restaurants and absconding with entire ballet casts). His appearance includes all black armour, a cape, and a mask, as well as a suit and tie. His manner might include raising his voice to indicate he is about to give a speech, not punching a criminal to indicate that it is their turn to speak, or getting up from the floor to indicate he is not done fighting.
3. Dramatic realization is simply the symbolic expression of an activity. It can be convenient, such as with an NFL athlete, whose training and games are broadcast, to rather inconvenient, as with secretaries or researchers who do a lot of independent, behind-the-scenes work. In the case of such persons, effort must be made to communicate their role. A researcher must give a presentation about his work; the secretary probably keeps a tidy desk and professional appearance to make up for the invisibility of financing and scheduling. When the worker must put a large amount of effort into the dramatization (rather than achievement) of their role, we encounter the "dilemma of expression versus action." Someone trying to get funding for a project or filling out applications for jobs might feel they suffer this dilemma. What they want is to be developing their project or working, but instead they are practicing interviews, writing essays, and manipulating their credentials.
4. Performances present an ideal in two ways. First, they tend to represent an ideal type. Second, they tend to represent an ideal toward which the actors are striving. Since the ideals we choose are socially influenced, the performance of them is both a reaffirmation and celebration of society.
The ritual of punishment, to relate back to Durkheim, is a celebration of society. Repressive punishment in particular amends offenses by bringing the community together in honor of the very ideals which were injured. At a public hanging, someone who committed adultery is reviled and killed while the onlookers stand together and build their respect for the ideal of celibacy and loyalty. This performance presents an ideal because many people break the various legal, religious, and unwritten laws regarding sexual intercourse, but only one of them is being hanged. Having sex with only one person is something of a utopian idea, yet it is also an ideal society encourages us to follow.

Blumer:
1. Symbolic Interactionism rests on two concepts: symbols and interpretation. Blumer's big idea here is that the distinction between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom is that between the events of stimulus and response we insert a process of reflection. Rather than simply reacting to something we sense, we take time to analyze meanings. Take a game of catch. Without the conscious mind engaged, we would naturally respond to an incoming, high-speed object by ducking out of its path. With our minds engaged, however, we can realize that the object is a ball and that we are expected to catch it. All of conscious life is interpreted in this way. To bring it back to Mead, the original author of symbolic interactionism, interpretation is the process carried out by the Me. Symbolic Interaction is so significant because through it we apply subjective meanings to everything. This deviates from functionalism by declaring that the individual is not simply reacting to social stimuli, and does not have purely mathematical actions. In Functionalism, people are only media through which the social is expressed and upon which it acts. With symbolic interactionism, the individual has more power to comprehend and affect the social.
2. Blumer describes 4 central conceptions of symbolic interaction in the context of their methodological implications. They are...
a. People interpret and act on the symbols around them. This includes language and also context. It means that our decisions are affected by everything around us, from a welcome mat to architecture. The implication here is that when researching, we cannot fathom the motives and meanings of someone's actions without knowing what was going on around them. To try to 'objectively' analyze actions is foolish, because actions are defined in a subjective context.
b. Interaction is an interpretive process. I have already explained this. The point is, to research interaction, one must understand the interpretation. It is not enough to know that Bob asked Jillian how her mother was doing and that she responded 'fine.' We need to know what Bob meant by his question, how Jillian interpreted it, and what she meant by her response.
c. Everyone interprets situations in their own way. This means that researchers need to exercise caution not to assume the subject of their research thinks like them.
d. Society is dynamic. Things are always happening, people are always changing and acting, and the networking of all of this into society is likewise an unstable, evolving entity. Here Blumer is making his point that one era's perfect social theories may not apply to the next era, and that we need to adapt and shift with society rather than try to reconcile outdated theories.
Blumer's four conceptions create a micro-sociological theory which gives a lot more importance to context and individual interpretation than any other theorist. It's micro-focus on the individual sets it in stark contrast to macro-scale theories. It is differentiated from other micro theories in that it sets out only one vague theory of symbolic interactionism, but puts a lot of emphasis on the process and application of research.

2. Define the following terms from the reading, and explain how they relate to one another: performance, front, setting, personal front, appearance, manner. Using an example of a "social performer" (any social actor), describe how we might commonly encounter this person in terms of each concept above.

When reading The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, I couldn't help but think about Target and how the roles their employees play relate to the terms presented by Goffman. For Goffman, as individuals take on specific roles, they expect that their observers interpret their actions as honest and genuine. "They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possess the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be" (52). A target employee is expected to perform his/her duties in a way that makes customers and management believe that they care about the duties they complete and the customers they help. Like other jobs in customer service, employees are expected to display a positive and helpful attitude, leaving observers to believe that is their true self even if off the clock they are the complete opposite.

The duties of employees refer to their "performance." Performance includes the activity of an individual marked by a continuous presence of observers, which have some influence over the observers. In the example of target, performance can include anything done during an individual's shift because they are constantly surrounded by customers, management and other employees. The parts of an individual's performance that regularly functions to define the situation for those who observe the performance is the "front." This is a standard performance, for a target employee it may stocking shelves or running a cash register. These actions define for the observer that the individual is a target employee who is completing duties of his/her job. Target itself is the setting for this type of performance. "Setting," which is part of "front," includes the background items that supply the scenery for the performance and the stage props for human action that is played out. Setting is an important part of a Target employee's performance because it is a fixed setting. The individual can't perform until he is at his setting, and as soon as he leaves his performance is over. What may also be included in this setting are isles of food shelves that need to be stocked, checkout lanes, and various other items and props that call for action from an individual. Like setting, "personal front" refers to other items of expressive equipment. Personal front includes items intimately identified with the performer and are expected to follow him wherever he goes. When I think of Target, I immediately think of red shirts and khaki pants because that is the uniform required of employees. What also comes to mind are name tags and walkie-talkies, these items are signs that the individual is employed by Target and is capable of assisting us find what we need. Also included in personal front are appearance and manner. "Appearance" refers to the stimuli that tell us about the performer's status and temporary ritual state. Seeing an individual in the Target uniform, equipped with a nametag and walkie-talkie, tells us he is working and available to help. "Manner" then refers to the stimuli that warn us of the interaction role the performer is expected to play in an upcoming situation. An employee with an aggressive manner gives off the impression to the customer that he will be somewhat confrontational and be resistant to their requests. An employee with a passive manner then gives off the impression that he will be much more understanding and accepts their requests. Thus, we can see how the Target employee becomes a social actor and we encounter many other social actors in our daily lives, including teachers, doctors, bus drivers and other students.

Blog Post #2 "Symbolic Interactionism" - Herbert Blumer

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Symbolic-Interactionism as described by Blumer "refers to the peculiar and distinctive character of interaction as it takes place between human beings." More specifically the theory looks at the meaning that an individual has placed upon an action. So instead of simply reacting to an action they base their reaction on the meaning they have place upon that action. An example of this would be the burning of the U.S. flag. The action of burning the national flag to some individuals can be seen as okay form of social protest whereas other individuals may see that act as a desecration of a national object and view it as an unacceptable form of protest. All the individuals see the national flag as the same symbol but each person attaches a different meaning to the action of burning it in regards to protest. According to the symbolic-interactionism theory the meaning that individuals put towards an action come straight out of the previous experiences and social interactions that person has had in the society. So going back to the national flag example each person's meaning of the act of burning the flag will be based upon historical social interactions they have shared in society through many outlets such as family, school, and/or church.

There are four central conceptions of symbolic-interactionism. The first one is "people, individually and collectively, are prepared to act on the basis of the meanings of the objects that comprise their world". This means that people are going to use their own meanings of symbols and interactions to interpret objects in their society. They are going to do this process inherently as according to the theory individual's use their own past interaction to guide their future definitions. The second conception is "the association of people is necessarily in the form of a process in which they are making indications to one another and interpreting each other's indications. In other words for a person to attach meanings to symbols and interactions the individual needs to associate and interact with other people who they are able to make indication and interpretation through. The third conception is "social acts, whether individual or collective, are constructed through a process in which the actors note, interpret, and assess the situations confronting them". This refers to the actual process the individual goes through when confronted with an act. They will process what had previously learned about that interaction from the second conception and then determine how they will want to react when confronted again by the same action or possibly new action which the individual has never experienced. The fourth conception is "the complex interlinkages of acts that compromise organizations, institutions, division of labor, and networks of interdependency are moving and not static affairs. This simply means that the interpretations of acts between individuals in a society are constantly changing and rarely remain forever the same meaning. The burning of the national flag could easily be seen years from now as a very socially acceptable form of protest by everyone or it could possibly be seen the opposite. It all depends upon how individuals will interpret that action and then pass on that interpretation to others.

3-21 Micro-Sociology II: Goffman and Blumer Reading Questions

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Micro-Sociology II Reading Questions:

"The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" - Erving Goffman

1. Describe the "continuum of roles" one might play in life, according to Goffman. What does it mean to be "sincere" vs. being a "cynic?" Give your own examples of someone on either end of the continuum, then use your example to illustrate how someone might alter their belief in the role they play over time.

2. Define the following terms from the reading, and explain how they relate to one another: performance, front, setting, personal front, appearance, manner. Using an example of a "social performer" (any social actor), describe how we might commonly encounter this person in terms of each concept above.

3. What is "dramatic realization," and how is it connected to the "dilemma of expression versus action" (58)?

4. What does Goffman mean that performances tend to present "an idealized view of the situation?" (58). Use examples from Durkheim on the rituals of punishment or religion to illustrate this concept.

"Symbolic Interactionism" - Herbert Blumer

1. Define "symbolic-interactionism," as it is outlined by Blumer. How does this theoretical perspective challenge the "functionalism" of theorists like Durkheim/Parsons?

2. Explain the "four central conceptions" of symbolic-interactionism. Define each with reference to the text, but work to explain each in your own words. How do they fit together to form a micro-sociological perspective that is distinct from the other theorists we've studied?

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