Through the ears of an entrepreneur

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The Undead Sociologist: Social Media Goffman-style

Being a sociology major, I’ve had a lot of exposure to Erving Goffman. His claim to fame was his theory of dramaturgy: the idea that interactions between people were conducted on a “stage” and were a type of performance. Each person has a backstage and a front stage and can play a variety of roles. Where those roles intersect, people begin to construct their identity. With the emergence of various social media, Goffman’s theories are more applicable than ever.

Each social media platform is a different stage, a different place to perform. The most exhilarating thing is that you can choose which role you play. You could be the same character on each stage, but most likely you aren’t. For example on my Facebook you can see me living my college student life. You see what I write to my friends about classes, which school sponsored events I’m attending, and who I spend my time with. But never once on my Twitter have I made a reference to anything school related. On that account I am exposed for the reality TV buff that I am. And on my blog I am the sarcastic writer.

Another new thing about these stages? They don’t happen in real time. What I mean is that I can think for hours about my “performance”, fine tuning it until it’s ready to show to my audience. And then it’s there for…well…ever. The audience doesn’t react in real time either. It could be years before anyone ever comments on my blog. What’s nice about this is that you can say whatever you want without having to worry if anyone will care. That changes the dynamic a little bit. On the social media stages, I have no way of knowing who my audience is going to be, but that doesn’t matter as much as the expression. For some reason it feels good to tweet about something embarrassing. Much better than keeping it inside.

So what would Goffman say now? Erving, what do you think about our multiple stages? What do you think about the fact that we can play a million cyber-roles at the same time? Or the fact that we can meticulously sift through our performance before showing our audience? How does that affect the way we interact in real time?

Are we adept performers, because of our constant practice online, or has this handicapped us because in real time we can’t practice like we’re used to on the internet?

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6 Responses to The Undead Sociologist: Social Media Goffman-style

  1. Paul Dome says:

    Very interesting concept and one that has resonance in classic plays from some of the most respected theater “greats”, such as William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, and Luigi Pirandello. (As an English major, these were some of my favorites.)

    All of these playwrights tackle this very theme of how one presents their identity and to what extent life is a “stage”. Pretty cool to see it appear within the context of social media.

    From “As You Like It”…
    “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances”

    From Pirandello, check out “Six Characters in Search of an Author” and “Henry IV”.

    From Ibsen, check out “A Doll’s House”, “An Enemy of the People”, and “When We Dead Awaken”.

    • Preet says:

      Heh, i reset it and got to I think level 3 or 4, and got completely booetd through a wall and out of the building by one of the blue squares (after it had successfully chased me through the end of the level somehow).

  2. The when I read a blog, I’m hoping that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I am talking about, It was my method to read, but When i thought youd have something interesting to express. All I hear is actually a lot of whining about something you could fix when you werent too busy in search of attention.

    • Auth says:

      Tom Maybe another iron rule of all onilne forums is that new blossoms come from people who missed the first ones I have been overwhelmed with work and your fascinating posting is the first which I have had a chance to read and to which I can actually respond. I would like to introduce a line questioning about Elias’s reception of Habermas based on Stephen Mennells’s book and then pose a question about how this may or may not have changed in the new technological world with list-serves, e-mails, websites, and Blackberries.Here’s your query: Elias probably got the idea of using shame and disgust as basic explanations from Freud’s work. But Elias proceeded to use it in a way that was much more balanced than Freud. I contend that the basic thesis of Elias’s brilliant The Civilizing Process is first, that with modernization, shame and disgust were increasingly used as methods of social control. Secondly, that as these emotions became more and more important, they also became less visible, a repression hypothesis. These two propositions are stated explicitly, and are based on an impressive number of instances from manuals of etiquette in four different languages over hundreds of years of European history. I would like to know if any of you Eliasians disagree with the above paragraph. Don’t be shy. Is there another core thesis that I missed? Its possible. I also have an argument that it is this thesis that blocked interest in Elias’s work in the United States, but less so in Europe. Your query prompted me to reflect on the differences between Freud and Habermas and then to see if and where Elias might have encountered them. The theoretical concepts of Freud, it seems to me, are much more closely bound to what Simone de Beauvoir would call the species-being, whereas the work of Haermas, while cognizant of Freud, was much more deeply rooted in Idealism, and an Idealism carried forward into post-modernity as an expression of faith in rational communication. Habermas would square with your thesis, I think, in a general non-deterministic cultural evolutionary model in which the fundamental orientation and direction is toward rationalization or rational communication. Stephen Mennell takes up this topic briefly in Norbert Elias: An Introduction (p. 277) citing Richard Kilminster’s introduction to The Symbol Theory. Kilminster draws attention to Elias’s denunciation of the Cartesian/Kantian tradition shortly after reading recent writers, including Jurgen Habermas, that Kilminster and Mennell (and probably Elias) regarded as Kantian. (Robert Wuthnow views Habermas slightly differently, as do I, but there must be some Habermas experts out there to comment.) What I think galvanized Elias was the realisation that the transcendental dimension of Kantian thinking is defeatist. It assumes that people cannon adapt themselves to different situations and develop new ways of thinking from the nature of the emerging new objects they confront: they are forever shackled by fixed categories (Kilminster’s Introduction, p. xxi quoted by Mennell as cited above). Tom, according to your logic, they would have to break out of their social circle to break through the fixed categories of local customs. I view Habermas a little differently and would see his work much more closely related, if parallel, to Elias’s and probably adaptable to Mead (not mentioned in your comments) and Cooley. There are many reasons, I think, why the kind of abstract theory embodied in both him and Elias has never appealed so much to Americans self-control has never been lionized as a virtue in American and we have never had anything even approximating cultural unity in America, whereas especially the Catholic tradition of medieval Europe had this as its foundations. They thought Madonna was the Mother of God her picture is everywhere whereas we think of her as a rock star her picture is everywhere. What is modern in Europe, perhaps, is the increasing democratization of the self-control ideal with the emergence of the middle classes and the t! ransformation from externalizing to internalizing means (shame and disgust) to bring it about.My question back to you is this: have the social parameters within which the self is defined changed with electronic communication and social circles in which the participants are never face-to-face?Barbara R. WaltersAssociate Professor of SociologyCity University of New York KingsboroughConsortial Faculty for the CUNY Online Baccalaureate

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