Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Goffman: Impression Management

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February 8, 2013 Impression Management The notion that we see ourselves as an object, as others see us, forms the basis for one of Goffman’s central concepts; impression management. Impression management refers to the verbal and nonverbal practices we employ in an attempt to present an acceptable image of our self to others. Some of the principal ways in which impressions are created and maintained are by the person’s demeanor, the deference, the front, the backstage, the character, and the performer. The demeanor deals with how a person conducts and dresses himself individually.

For example, the greetings and salutations we offer others, the disclosure of personal information, the closing or granting of physical space we give others, and countless other acts, if done right can mark an individual as well-demeaned person and thus deserving of the deference only others can give to him. Deference refers to having honor, dignity, and respect towards others. The reciprocal nature of deference and demeanor is such that maintaining a well-demeaned image allows those present to do likewise as the deference they receive obligates them to confer proper deference in kind.

The front is what an individual shows toward others while the backstage is the region of the performance normally unobserved by, and restricted from members of the audience. Meaning that people have there own secrets about themselves that no one knows about. As a character, the self is in reality an image, a managed impression that is fabricated in agreement with others during an encounter. However, when we turn to the self as a performer, we as an individual look to impress or get approval by others by what we do/achieve at something.

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For example, you’re getting your house ready for when you have guests coming over because you want to make an good impression. The individual as performer is the thinking, fantasizing, dreaming, desiring human being whose capacity to experience pride and shame motivates him or her not only to perform for others but also to take precautions against embarrassment. The process of impression management and social interaction both include a rational and a non-rational dimension in different ways.

Merchants of morality is in both of them, it means individuals’ attempts to “engineer” interaction “profits” through properly enacted performances, and to live up to the standards of morality by which their performances will be judged. We present ourselves as well-demeaned persons in part because it is in our best interest to do so but, by doing that, we announce our adherence to the moral standards that ritually organize social encounters. In other words, the self is the mask the individual wears in social situations, but it is also the human being behind the mask who decides which mask to wear.

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