Thursday, August 31, 2006

performance and goffman

i'm taking a class on computer mediated communication, and our first reading is by erving goffman, titled The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (see wikipedia article on goffman and book).

the theme of the article is performance (ie how we are all performing) and how these performances function or fail to function. in some ways i didn't like the article because it was too qualitative for my liking: one-off observations merged together for some grand theory. on the flip side, quantitative observation has problems too. the ethnographer in the class pointed out that all these theory-generating mechanisms have flaws, though typically in the research community nowadays they list their methodology and assumptions, as well as address criticisms, things that this author didn't do.

anyway, i'm going to put some quotes here. note that the text is from the 1959 and so the language is a bit odd for us.

the first quote is from sartre, and i find that i sometimes do exactly this:
The attentive pupil who wishes to be attentive, his eyes riveted on the teacher, his ears open wide, so exhausts himself in playing the attentive role that he ends up by no longer hearing anything
these next two quotes suggest the unseemly side of performance in the professional space:
if attendants in a mental ward are to maintain order and at the same time not hit patients, and if this combination of standards is difficult to maintain, then the unruly patients may be "necked" with a wet towel and chocked into submission in a way that leaves no visible evidence of mistreatment. Absense of mistreatment can be faked, not order.


Thus, one student suggests about pharmacists that they feel that the four-year university course required for license is "good for the profession" but that some admit that a few months training is all that is really needed. It may be added that the American Army during World War II innocently treated trades such as pharmacy and watch-repairing in a purely instrumental way and trained efficient practitioners in five or six weeks to the horror of established members of these callings.

goffman emphasizes here that what's important for him is not so much what is real, but how the performance might be disrupted:
While we could retain the common-sense notion that fostered appearances can be discredited by a discrepant reality, there is often no reason for claiming that the facts discrepant with the fostered impression are any more the real reality than is the fostered reality they embarrass.... We will want to ask, "What are the ways in which a given impression can be discredited?" and this is not quite the same as asking, "What are the ways in which the given impression is false?"
the author ends with this quote from sartre:
There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition.

1 comment:

bea said...

hey you,

no fair for quoting goffman's drudging up all sorts of painful memories from reading asylums, from which most of his other books are then based off of....