Sample Sociology Essays on Ervin Goffman

Critique of sociologists work

Ervin Goffman in his work “The presentation of self in everyday life” makes a comparison about social interaction with theater. According to Goffman individuals just like actors only reveal a part of themselves that they want others to see while concealing other parts of them. Individuals in the community can be seen as actors, performers, audiences and even outsiders all operating on a given stage (Goffman). Goffman developed the dramaturgical theory to explain his understanding about how people interact.  The general assumptions that Goffman makes about people are derived from his observation of people’s behaviors and perhaps from his interactions with other people. People generally chose what to reveal to certain people and this can be seen in a situation where different people have different perceptions about a given individual. The relationship that an individual has with other people in the community determines what elements one will showcase. Therefore, individuals are relational individuals because they rely on the relationships they have with other people to determine their character and behavior.

Goffman utilizes the theater example because it is the only way he could make sense of the interactions among people. He makes the assumption that people will not reveal their true self to other people since they do not want either to be judged or to be vulnerable. The work indicates that humans are generally built to protect themselves not only from things that might harm them but also from people whom they feel they do not have to form relationships with (Jacobsen, Michael and Soren Kristiansen, n.p). While it might be true that individuals generally hide their true identity from many people, there are chances that individuals can be open and vulnerable to individuals that they trust.

Goffman dramaturgical theory might be based on his relationships and interactions with other people. Goffman was a travelled and learned individual having worked as a professor in prestigious universities such as Pennsylvania. In his journeys he interacted and held conversations with many people and perhaps in these interactions he felt that he had to employ different characters based on the people he was interacting with. In addition he might have felt that the interaction he had with students, colleagues and associates might have differed from the interactions he had with his family and close relatives. Moreover, Goffman was a sociologist and he was capable of observing and interpreting human behavior. Strangers for example will put on an act to impress each other. When pursuing relationship individuals only show a side of themselves which they believe the other person will be drawn to. Goffman was married twice and he might have had an experience showcasing only a side of his personality which he believed that his person of interest will be attracted to.

One of the strengths of the writing is that it captures the truth of how people relate and interact. Goffman was right to state that people will only showcase aspects of themselves depending on the setting and the people they are interacting with. The interaction that an individual will have with the boss for example in an office setting is different from the interaction that the same individual will have with a person who they are in an intimate relationship with. Therefore, individuals are constantly in a never ending play where only the setting, plot and characters change.

The weakness of this writing is that it assumes that all individuals act the same. Goffman makes the assumption that all people will hide their true identity from all the individuals they interact with. According to him, there are no individuals capable of showing their true identity to anybody despite the setting and the nature of relationship (Goffman, P 154). In addition, the author makes the claim that individuals make a conscious decision to hide who they are. there are chances that people do not chose to hide their identity when interacting with people but simply follow the other persons lead in their interactions. There is no evidence to showcase that people take time to think how to respond and act in all situations and if that were the case perhaps there would not be so many murders that occur when individuals are angry. In some cases, individuals’ actions are not deliberate and individuals are not in control of their emotions at all times.

Concluding thoughts

Goffman developed the dramaturgical theory to showcase that people can take on different roles and characters based on the plot and setting of their interaction with other individuals. The take home point from the reading is that it is hard to tell the true identity of individuals since everyone only presents a side of themselves that they deem preferable for a given setting. In addition, the author makes a general assumption that all individuals are in control of their actions, emotions and characters and this is hard to believe since there are circumstances when people are not in control of situations. However, the author does make a convincing case that individuals are in a continuous play where either they or others control the narrative as well as the outcome of their interactions.


Works Cited

Goffman, Erving. “Presentation of self in everyday life.” American Journal of Sociology 55 (1949): 6-7.

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Jacobsen, Michael H, and Soren Kristiansen. The Social Thought of Erving Goffman. , 2014.

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Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

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