Self in Society
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Course Unit Guide
George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self, and Society
Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
Social Interactionist Perspective
Mead focuses on the social construction of reality through social interaction and the "conversation of gestures"social psychology
both Mead and Goffman view reality from the outside (social interaction) in (meaning and mind created in interactionno mind, ideas apart from the "conversation of gestures")
Goffman focuses on the detailed dynamics of social interaction (the "presentation of self") using a "dramaturgical" perspective that views interaction as a staged performance or (more formally) as a ceremony ("life is a wedding")ethnomethodology
Goffman thus elaborates Mead's social psychology in his detailed analysis of social interactions
Mead's "me" and "I"Goffman's role-taking and role-makingreflect dynamics of socialization and individuation
Types of Socialization
re-socialization (typically in "total institutions")
Socialization and the Self
feature film - Nell
Family Interaction and Parenting Issues
lecture/discussion - handouts
videotape - Childhood: Love's Labors - on mental growth and language development through age three in various cultures around the world, including a deaf family communicating through sign language
relate here as well the debate between "innatists" and "enviromentalists" on the acquistion of language that we discussed earlier in the course (summarized in Genie and dramatized in Nell)
also note innatist Noam Chomsky's concept of "transformational grammar" as follows:
"According to transformational grammar, every intelligible sentence conforms not only to grammatical rules peculiar to its particular language, but also to 'deep structures,' a universal grammar underlying all languages and corresponding to an innate capacity of the human brain. Chomsky and other linguists who built on his work formulated transformational rules, which transform a sentence with a given grammatical structure (e.g., 'John saw Mary') into a sentence with a different grammatical structure but the same essential meaning ( 'Mary was seen by John'). Transformational linguistics has been influential in psycholinguistics, particularly in the study of language acquisition by children. In the 1990s Chomsky formulated a 'Minimalist Program' in an attempt to simplify the symbolic representations of the language facility." The Columbia Encyclopedia
Roles and Statuses
you play a role and occupy a status
statuses can be ascribed, achieved, projected (Goffman)
"...to be a given kind of person, then, is not merely to possess the required attributes, but also to sustain the standards of conduct and appearance that one's social grouping attaches thereto" (75).
* "A status, a position, a social place is not a material thing [compare Mead], to be possessed and then displayed; it is a pattern of appropriate conduct, coherent, embellished, and well articulated. Performed with ease or clumsiness, awareness or not, guile or good faith, it is none the less something that must be enacted and portrayed, something that must be realized." (75)
Elements of Role-Playing
role performance(also note Goffman's dramaturgical sense of "performance")
role strain (within one role)
role conflict (among two or more roles)
role expectations projected in Mead's "me" from either the generalized other or the particular other (Goffman's "audience")Goffman: "When a performer guides his private activity in accordance with incorporated moral standards, he may associate these standards with a reference group of some kind, thus creating a non-present audience for his activity" (81).
Mead's "I" created by spontaneous behavior choices through active intelligence
Components of Communication
meaning, content symbolized in words
paralinguistic elements of speech: rhythm, loudness (dynamics), emphasis, tone
Essential Elements in Goffman's Dramaturgy
three main players in the performanceactor, audience, outsiders
central task in dramaturgy is impression management
both Mead and Goffman focus on the dynamics of team membership, role-playing
* A team, then, may be defined as a set of individuals whose intimate co-operation is required if a given projected definition of the situation is to be maintained. A team is a grouping, but it is a grouping not in relation to a social structure or social organization but rather in relation to an interaction or series of interactions in which the relevant definition of the situation is maintained." (104)
* "Since we all participate on teams we must all carry within ourselves something of the sweet guilt of conspirators." (105)
for Goffman, "any individual who possesses certain social characteristics has a moral right to expect that others will value and treat him in an appropriate way" (13)Goffman quoting Durkheim: "The human personality is a sacred thing; one does not violate it nor infringe its bounds, while at the same time the greatest good is in communion with others" (Goffman 69).
appearance reflects, projects status; manner reflects, projects role
congruencepsychologically: the "fit" between emotion, thought, and behaviorGoffman: "In addition to the expected consistency between appearance and manner, we expect, of course, some coherence among setting, appearance, and manner" (25)
words, gestures are significant signs for Mead and sign-vehicles for Goffman
performance regions: front region (front stage), back region (backstage)"It would seem reasonable to add a third region, a residual one, namely, all places other than the two already identified [front stage and backstage]. Such a region could be called 'the outside.'" (134-135).
discrepant roles [role conflicts]"Some of these peculiar vantage points are so often taken and their significance for the performance comes to be so clearly understood that we can refer to them as roles, although, relative to the three crucial ones, they might best be called 'discrepant roles.'" (145)
"Moral" Implications of Mead's and Goffman's
Symbolic Interactionist Perspectives
knowingemerges out of sharing, interaction
quality of interaction counts
sincerity bespeaks integrity (congruence between Goffman's performer and character)
openness leaves space for the expansion of truth
tolerance creates room for personal growth through role-taking
significance, meaning emerge out of relatedness, shared symbols
* diversity of actors, experience broaden both content and perspective
curiosity energizes "active intelligence"
"consciousness is functional, not substantive" (Meademphasis added)
note that these values underlie both democracy and the ideals of liberal education and reflect John Dewey's pragmatism and organic educational philosophy (education for personal freedom and social democracy) as well as current ideologies of diversity and pluralism on college campuses
While the Postman book in the transformation unit at the end of the course will explore individual and social transformation in TV culture, it's also relevant here to recall the intentionally less socialized "secret lives" of children and the rest of us - invisible, imaginary worlds that parallel our socialized, "real" selves as we choose to present them in more public discourse and behavior. Here's a poem by Charlotte Mew that reflects this divided consciousness that also informs the children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and children's common suspicions that in fact these are not their "real parents."
Toll no bell for me, dear Father, dear Mother,
Waste no sighs;
There are my sisters, there is my little brother
Who plays in the place called Paradise
Your children all, your children for ever;
But I, so wild,
Your disgrace, with the queer brown face, was never,
Never, I know, but half your child!
In the garden at play, all day, last summer,
Far and away I heard
The sweet "tweet-tweet" of a strange new-comer,
The dearest, clearest call of a bird.
It lived down there in the deep green hollow,
My own old home, and the fairies say
The word of a bird is a thing to follow,
So I was away a night and a day.
One evening, too, by the nursery fire,
We snuggled close and sat round so still,
When suddenly as the wind blew higher,
Something scratched on the window-sill.
A pinched brown face peered in - I shivered;
No one listened or seemed to see;
The arms of it waved and the wings of it quivered,
Whoo - I knew it had come for me;
Some are as bad as bad can be!
All night long they danced in the rain,
Round and round in a dripping chain,
Threw their caps at the window-pane,
Tried to make me scream and shout
And fling the bedclothes all about:
I meant to stay in bed that night,
And if only you had left a light
They would never have got me out.
Sometimes I wouldn't speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear, grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel's feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat's black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell's sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things,
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That's why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn't do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything.
And when, for that, I was sent upstairs
I did kneel down to say my prayers;
But the King who sits on your high church steeple
Has nothing to do with us fairy people!
Times I pleased you, dear Father, dear Mother,
Learned all my lessons and liked to play,
And dearly I loved the little pale brother
Whom some other bird must have called away.
Why did They bring me here to make me
Not quite bad and not quite good,
Why, unless They're wicked, do They want, in spite, to take me
Back to their wet, wild wood?
Now, every night, I shall see the windows shining,
The gold lamp's glow, and the fire's red gleam,
While the best of us are twining twigs and the rest of us are whining
In the hollow by the stream.
Black and chill are Their nights in the wold;
And They live so long and They feel no pain;
I shall grow up, but never grow old,
I shall always, always be very cold,
I shall never come back again!
"....Children may be poets of the five senses, but their research is silent and invisible. They don't articulate their experience in a language easily accessible to grown-ups. After all, why should they disclose their secrets to adults who don't readily recall what, as children, they most cherished and desired? As Coleridge lamented in Biographica Literaria, growing up is like being dipped in Lethe, the river of oblivion. ..."
Elizabeth N. Goodenough, "Peering Into Childhood's Secret Spaces," The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 4, 2003
A relational, more adult sense of anomie and depth-psychological alienation is reflected in the following words of A.D. Hope as quoted in James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins:
You cannot build bridges between the wandering islands;
The Mind has no neighbors, and the unteachable heart
Annouces its armistice time after time, but spends
Its love to draw them closer and closer apart.
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This page last modified 10/03/2006
Copyright 1999 Robert Harsh