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Goffman’s Dramaturgical model

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Social reality can be defined as a uniform paradigm representing collective concepts and representations of the world we live in. The phrase human agent addresses that individuals have the power to react on their own accord without structural influence; they then have the calculated ability to shape their own life trajectories. This statement does correctly asses how human agents are actively involved in the dialectic relationship creating social reality. The Symbolic Interactionist approach would support this statement.

This 1st generation model argues that social reality is created through social interaction and stresses the importance of language constructed within patterned ways. However, this statement over emphasises the amount of agency accessible for individuals, in mundane life, we are able to actively influence and define actions and situations, but only to some degree. The society, or influences from above, is shaped by the individual and the individual is shaped by reality.

Each variable constantly remakes, reconstructs, and remoulds each other over time, in ways that are neutrally reinforcing. To state that human agents are ‘actively’ involved connotes that they have the consistent conscious ability to inflict change and are capable of exerting influence, which is incorrect. Therefore the statement fails to include the substantial influence of societal external forces, the 2nd generation of theories, surrounding the construction of social reality, especially as explained by Goffman with the Dramaturgical metaphor.

Herbert Blumer writes in ‘Symbolic Interactionism: Method and Perspective’ (1969), that social reality is constructed through collective and individual action, and individuals self indicate objects of consciousness. Symbolic interactionists believe that social reality can be negotiated, constructed and reproduced through the reciprocal process of interaction and personal interpretation, put simply, ‘the peculiar and distinctive character of interaction as it takes place in human beings’ (Blumer, 1962:179). Therefore, this is supporting the statement. One significant element of human action and social reality is the construction of institutions; Blumer argued that social institutions only exist as individuals interact.

Cooley, in line with Blumer, believed instead of institutions reinforcing and enforcing order, they are mental abstractions, aggregates of individuals acting and interacting in patterned ways. This was in contrast to theories put forward by Karl Marx, for example, as it suggested that when individuals act differently, then the institutions will also change. Therefore, society is a continuing, fluid process where agency and indeterminateness of action is emphasized (Collins, 1994).

He argued that human behaviour is determined by the semantics that individual has for something or another individual. This is subjective, as different people will have different attributed meanings toward the object/person in question. Therefore, as they differ between social classes, ethnicities or ages, Blumer believes it is crucial to not suggest that human action and social reality is solely controlled by social laws rules and norms. This is true, but only to an extent. Blumer fails to suggest that the self is not reducible, social norms and roles enable as well as constrain individuals.

Despite Blumer’s influential contributions to sociology, he can be criticised and this prevents his theories to be taken seriously. For example, his work is particularly dismissive of empirically driven research designs, such as scientific methods, and believed qualitative methods of study were the only way to analyse human behaviour. This ultimately is a significant limitation, since Sociology is a social science, and use of quantitative and statistical methods allows data and theories to be perceived as less abstract.

Therefore, Blumer can only be accredited for highlighting that human beings do have the ability to construct and modify their own life trajectories, and they are not a robotic species that are solely formed through the constraining rules and regulations of society as a whole. G.H. Mead, was a philosopher and social psychologist who wrote within ‘Mind, Self and Society’ (1967) that the self is an emergent entity and you are not born with knowing who you are and the world you live in. He insisted that ‘the individual mind can exist only in relation to other minds with shared meanings’ (Mead 1982:5).

Mead proposed that the ‘self’ and the ‘mind’ are formed within the social and communication between peer groups or the community. In interaction we learn to predict the status, roles and hierarchy of others, and then in turn monitor and adapt ours accordingly. Smith and Bugni (2006:124) suggested that symbolic interactionism reveals the influence of designed institutions, buildings and environments. Mead argued that language shapes and constructs social reality and the selfhood. He believed individuals acquire language through attachment to and interaction with social groups, therefore, language is the primary medium through which the selfhood emerges.

Mead distinguishes between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’. This was his way of explaining how we construct social reality in response to the attitude of others. Miller (1973:56) interprets Meads theory succinctly by explaining that ‘the ‘me’ is the identity that the self develops through seeing its form in the attitudes others take towards it. It consists of those attitudes of others that have been incorporated to the self.’ In other words, when the ‘I’ thinks of itself as an object through the eyes of others, this is the ‘me’. Once this process has occurred, the ‘me’ has internalised social roles, behaviour patterns and normative codes of conduct.

This concept explains how individuals do have some extent of agency as the ‘I’ is the process of thinking. The ‘me’ explains how we as individuals are also constrained to habitualized social roles, and we have subconsciously internalised social structures which in turn have impacted our thought processes and behavioural patterns. Therefore, Mead argues that the to the statement is correct, but does correctly asses that there is external structures impacting the construction of social reality.
Cooley put forward the concept of the ‘Looking Glass Self’.

Blumer, Mead and Cooley can all be accredited for their work as they highlighted that we are not all a cog in the works of society, we are infact a species with the rational and active ability to behave for ourselves. However, the emergence of the 2nd generation put forward the concept that social life is a performance, in which each individual plays a specific role, depending on the social situation. This is an incisive, influential concept created by Ervin Goffman.

Erving Goffman, perhaps one of the most influential sociologists, coined the Dramaturgical model within one of his key texts, ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ (1959). He likened social reality to the analogy of a theatre, whereby individuals are actors and the staged dramas are every day social situations. He argued that individual actors are capable of playing many different roles, depending on the demands of the social situation. Social situations have social scripts to them, for example occupational roles, social norms or institutions.

The ‘audience’ then can expect certain Furthermore. These rules are intrinsic; we are often unable to explain why we follow predetermined behaviours in certain situations. Therefore, this theory argues against the statement of human agents being actively involved in the construction of social reality, since behaviour can be predicted and expected from certain roles that are contained in social reality. Furthermore, Goffman explained that each individual has a ‘face’, which is the social value a person claims to himself in interaction. They then put in ‘face work’, following certain rules, in order to avoid embarrassment or stigmatization.

One ethnographic observation which he conducted within an Asylum named St.Elizabeth, clearly proves his theory of how order is made possible through mini ongoing dramas attached to specific institutions. This study has been described by Fine and Manning (2003:p49) as an ‘ethnography of the concept of the total institution.’ The institution obviously needed to control inmate conduct and did so through what Goffman (1961:14) explained as a ‘series of abasements and humiliations of self’.

This is showing how the institution damages the inmates ‘face’ in an attempt to decrease their value of themselves. Goffman outlined that this institution stripped inmates of their post institutionalised self which don’t fit the role of the inmate, in order for them to be perceived as an acceptable inmate in the eyes of the staff. This is directly showing how individuals are controlled and forced to adapt to the social roles, in this case which is enforced through institutions.

Other examples of routine life following Goffman’s Dramaturgical model, is the role of the student and teacher in the class room, queuing in public situations and occupational trust within the public health service. Therefore, Goffman’s work accurately shed light on the previously unexplainable habits of human behaviour following order and structure without fully realising it was occurring. This argues against the statement, since humans clearly do not always have the agency to actively control their thoughts and act on them to construct social reality as situations have intrinsic social scripts attributed to them.

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