**ROUGH** Lecture Bullet Points on Goffman

(condensed lecture notes / Sociology  - Research methods 

Goffman, like Mead and Blumer, sees the basis of interaction as a
COMMUNICATIVE EXPERIENCE. Communication, however, requires


MESSAGES are embedded in interaction, conditions, policies, and
physical surroundings.  A message is any packet of meanings
passed between a sender, who encodes the meanings, selects the
proper medium for sending, and channels the meanings to an an
intended audience.  When an unintended audience receives and
interprets the message, the original meanings may become
distorted in the translation process.

Modifying the distinction made by de Saussure (1966: 9-10)
between language (langue) and speech (language) provides a useful
departure point for understanding in prisoner culture.

LANGUAGE refers to the social product of both the faculty of
communication itself (e.g., speech) and a collection of necessary
conventions allowing individuals to exercise that faculty (de
Saussure, 1966: 9).

SPEECH, by contrast, is the specific act of articulating a
message through the exchange of symbols as required by the rules
of language. Although de Saussure was referring to speech as a
verbal expression of sense-making sounds, his model holds for any
sign system in which rule-following symbolic exchange occurs.

Hence, the SI research task is one of displaying how cultural
speech is learned, "spoken," and imbued with behavior-evoking


How did Goffman do this?

1. World is a "stage"
2. People "actors"
3. They "stage manage" and "socially construct" a reality
4. "Front Stage/Back Stage" reality: Backstage is where the
    impression fostered by the performance is knowingly
    contradicted as a matter of course.

Goffman's metaphor views social interaction as, like a theater
performance, requiring the control of INFORMATION (content,
tempo, pacing, scripting).  For those present, information
becomes accessible and has many carriers (or SIGN VEHICLES) for
conveying it.

Goffman refers to these performance areas as REGIONS - or places
bounded to some degree by barriers to perception (PS 1959: 105).
Barriers may be physical, symbolic, emotional, etc.

REGIONS are marked by places where information is controlled by
display or concealment.  The FRONT REGION is where a PERFORMANCE
is given (p. 107) and the fixed-sign equipment (or SETTING)
exists.  defines a situation for the observers--it's EXPRESSIVE

SETTINGS--a) physical layout; b) "social" layout (norms, etc).
It's the "scenic parts of expressive equipment" (p 23).

(The PERFORMANCE in a region is an effort to maintain standards
of two broad types: a) "politeness" (ie, courtesy norms) and
"decorum (ie, comportment). A performance is:

"All activity of an individual which occurs during a period
marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of
observers and which has some influence on the observers (Goffman,
1959: 22).

PERFORMANCES require "INFORMATION" (ie, cues, facts, knowledge of
social norms and rituals, "interpretive frameworks", manipulating
all the activity of an individual whch occurs during a period
marked by continuous presence before a particuilar set of
(clothes, posture, expression, gestures)

A "FRONT" is that part of our performance that regularly functins
in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those
who observe the performance. It's the EXPRESSIVE EQUIPMENT OF A
STANDARD KIND intentionally or unwittingly employed during our
performance (Goffman, 1959: p. 22).  observers.

FRONTS, then, are the part of performance which is generally
fixed and Performances are those actions we:  1) Create for
public consumption 2) Work at and modify to fit the audience

The BACKSTAGE REGION (p 112) is the place, relative to a given
    a) where the impression fostered by the performance is
       knowingly contradicted as a matter of course.
    b) That is demarcated by some barrier
    c) Usually designated as a place for "work control" or
       performance preparation or maintenance

A third, RESIDUAL REGION (p. 134) is all places other than the
two identified. The "outside" can include "reality intrusions"
when a non-audience member wanders in.

** TEAMS **

The concept of "teams" is important for Goffman because he sees
INTERACTION AS A DIALOTUE between two teams (1959: 92). One team
is the PERFORMER, the other is the AUDIENCE.

A "performance team" or just "team" refers to any set of
individuals who cooperate in staging a single routine (1959: 79).
It involves

  a) complicity
  b) mutual/shared understandings of def of situation

A TEAMMATE Is "someone whose dramaturgical cooperation one is
dependent upon in fostering a given definitin of the situation;
if such a person comes to be beyhond the pale of informal
sanctions and insists on givng the show away or forcing it to
take a particular turn, he is none the less part of the team
(Goffman, 1959: 83).



The goal of any team is to sustant the definitin of the situation
that its performance fosters. This requires INFORMATION CONTROL:
The AUDIENCE must not acquire destructive information about the
situation that is being defined for them, which requires that
"secrets" must be kept (1959: 141).

Information control becomes important for teams,and one goal is
to protect "damaging information" from leaking out. "Damaging
information" thus becomes a type of secret.  A secret is simply
"protected information." Goffman lists several types (pp 141 ff).

    1) "Dark Secrets" (p 141)
    2) "Strategic secrets" (p 142)
    3) "Inside secrets" (p 142)
    4) "Entrusted secrets" (p 143)
    5) ""Free Secrets" (p 143)

This suggests several types of "discrepant roles," or roles in
which a team member's interests or performance violates the

    1) Informants (betrays the team)
    2) Shills (betrays the audience)
    3) Mediator (goes between the teams, keeps secrets, etc)


Some critics argue that life isn't really a theater. It's real.
Goffman would responsd that his concepts  may be metaphors from
the stage, BUT:

 "...the _successful_ staging of either of these types of false
figures involves the use of _real_ techniques--the same
techniuqes by which everyday persons sustaing their real social
situations.  Those who conduct fact to fact interaction on a
theater's stage must meet the key requirement of real situations;
they must expressively sustain a definition of the situatin: but
this they do in circumstances that have facilitated their
developing an apt terminology for the interactional tasks that
all of us share."  (Goffman, 1959: 254-255).


Some other key Goffman concepts (asterisk indicates KEY concepts
for us):

1. Impression Management (PS)
2. Face work (IR)
3. Deference and Demeanor (IR)

In some ways, Goffman's work is a cynical and manipulative view
of social existence (define/explain)


QUESTION: How can Goffman's work be used?

("man who wouldn't die")


Another EXAMPLE:
>From Goffman's "COOLING OUT THE MARK" (Psychiatry, 15(November):
451-463 (1952).

A "mark" is any individual who is a victim or prospective victim of
certain forms of planned  illegal exploitation.  A "con man" is one
who accepts a social role that is not "legit." Success in the role
entails a moral failure, which occurs when the con artist is
successful in a scam. One way to maximize success is to "cool out
the mark." NOTE: Goffman is using the "mark" as an icon for a
broader type of social situations in which "cooling out" is

COOLING OUT: Is a process of adjustment or readjustment to an
"impossible" situation arising from the "mark" being in a situation
that the social facts seem to contradict.  Cooling out entails
providing the mark with a new set of apologies to him/herself to
redefine the situation, and a new framework in wich to see one's
self and judge/redefine the self along defensible lines. This the
job of the "cooler."

Three general ways:

1) Distancing of social status (ie, give the task to someone, or
assume the status of someone, in a superior position--(eg, firings,
"beaten by an 'expert'")

2) Offering a new status that differs from the one lost, but
provides something to ease transition (eg, offering a released
employee help with another job or offering a different job)

3) Offering a "second chance"

4) Allowing "explosion" time

5) Stalling--feelings or outcome not brought to a head

6) Collusion--appearance of leaving or losing on one's own accord

7) Bribery

Goffman's purpose is in showing how roles, selves, and negotiations
create social order.



"In every social situation we can find a sense in which one
participant will be an observer with something to gain from
assessing expressions, and another will be a subject with
something to gain from manipulating the process. A single
structure of contingencies can be found in this regard which
renders {secret} agents a little like us all and al of us a
little like agents" (Goffman, 1969: 81).

People have the capacity to CONCEAL information, and because
nearly all of our interaction is based on communicating
information of some kind, how information is concealed or
revealed is crucial to understanding interaction.

LANGUAGE is the medium by which info is conveyed. A LANGUAGE is
simply any medium that contains the lexicon (symbols) and syntax
(grammatical rules) that conveys a message.  A MESSAGE is a unit
of symbols that possesses meaning(s) intended by a "sender" to an
"audience." So, "body language," speech, clothes, artifacts (e.g.
status symbols) are all examples of a message-sending language.

Some basic assumptions EXPRESSION GAMING:

1.  People affect their environment in a way consistent with
their own actions and properties: That is, the EXUDE EXPRESSIONS.

2. There are some standard means by which people EXPRESS
information, and "communication" is the instrumental activity by
which signs "encode" information to transmit information.
COMMUNICATED INFORMATION (or transmitted information or a
"message" occurs through a SOCIAL PROCESS, and it is this PROCESS
that we wish to understand.

3. The behavioral properties that communicates messages occurs
through various kinds of EXPRESSIONS.  Both the signs and the
means of conveying it contain information.

4. All interaction is dependent on making use of the information
received and interpreted in order to make an appropriate


A "GAME" is a metaphor for one type of interaction. A game as
"players," "position," "moves," and winning/losing (or successes
and failures).  Players, obviously, or those involved in sending


1. UNWITTING MOVES (part of the game, but not so-intended)--it's
behavior not intended to the assessment an observer might be
making of it.

2. NAIVE MOVE: Naivity is "taking things at face value." This is
the ASSESSMEENT an observer makes of a subject when the observer
believes that the subject can be take at face-value.

3. CONTROL MOVE: The intentional effort of an informant (or
communicant) to produce expressions believed to "improve" a
situation of properly gleaned by the observer.
Control moves can be indended to reveal (face value) or
conceal (verbal ploys, gestures, accentuated revealment,
misrepresentation/lies, concealment).

4. UNCOVERING MOVES: Observers attempt to decipher/clarify, or
use counter-ploys to uncover "real" meanings.

5. COUNTER-UNCOVERING MOVES:  The first observer, anticipating
"uncovering," attempts to respond in ways to block it (eg, facial
gestures, etc)

In some interactions these don't occur; in others, they occur
constantly (e.g., trials, gov't cover-ups, crimes, affairs).
Generally, it's somewhere in between.


1. Properties of the situation:
a. What is to be hidden
b. What is to be used as "cover"
c. Means of perception available to observers

2. State of participants' knowledge and competence

3. "Constitutive features" of players--eg, emotional self control,
gaming skills, etc, that keeps unwanted information from
"leaking out."

SO: The trick for researchers is to determine what moves are
occuring and how to avoid misdirection/naive interpretation.


An example of "information acquisition:  SECRETS.
"Destructive Information" (PS: 141) must be prevented from an
audience to protect the fragile performances from being
disrupted, destroyed, or discredited. Teams must be able to
keep its secrets, because revelation can threaten a performance,
depending on the function of the secret.

1. DARK SECRETS: Facts about a team which it nows and conceals
and which are incompatible with the image of self that the team
attemps to mainain before its audience. These are double
secrets...one s the crucial fact that is hidden, and
another is the fact that crucial facts have not been openly

2. STRATEGIC SECRETS:  Intentions and capacities of a team
which it conceals from its audience in order to prevent them from
adapting effectively to the state of affairs the team is
plannng to bring about (Pres of Self, 1959: 141)

3. INSIDE SECRETS: Possessin marks an individual as being a
member of a group--often hae little strategic importance and
may often be discovered without disrupting team performance
(but, is this true? Counter-examples?)

4. ENTRUSTED SECRETS: Obligation of team members is to keep these
"secret" because of relationship to the team (eg, atty/client

5. FREE SECRETS: Secrets aquired outside of the team
by accident or serrendipity, and are often protected as
courtesy, even though not required.  (All from PofS: 142-143).

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