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Extracts from Erving Goffman with concept links

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life 1959

Asylums. Essays on the Social Situation of Mental patients and Other Inmates 1961

Encounters. Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction 1961

Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity 1963

Behaviour in Public Places, Notes on the Social Organisation of Gatherings. 1963

Goffman E. 1959
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life


I mean this report to serve as a sort of handbook detailing one sociological perspective from which social life can be studied, especially the kind of social life that is organised within the physical confines of a building or plant. A set of features will be described which together form a framework that can be applied to any concrete social establishment, be it domestic, industrial, or commercial.

The perspective employed in this report is that of the theatrical performance; the principles derived are dramaturgical ones. I shall consider the way in which the individual in ordinary work situations presents himself and his activity to others, the ways in which he guides and controls the impression they form of him, and the kinds of things he may and may not do while sustaining his performance before them.

In using this model I will attempt not to make light of its obvious inadequacies. The stage presents things that are make-believe; presumably life presents things that are real and sometimes not well rehearsed. More important, perhaps, on the stage one player presents himself in the guise of a character to characters projected by other players; the audience constitutes a third party to the interaction - one that is essential and yet, if the stage performance were real, one that would not be there. In real life, the three parties are compressed into two; the part one individual plays is tailored to the parts played by the others present, and yet these others also constitute the audience. Still other inadequacies in this model will be considered later.

INTRODUCTION [Penguin pages 13 to 27]

When an individual enters the presence of others, they commonly seek to acquire information about him or to bring into play information about him already possessed...

If unacquainted with the individual, observers can glean clues from his conduct and appearance which allow them to apply their previous experiences with individuals roughly similar to the one before them or, more important, to apply untested stereotypes to him.

1. PERFORMANCES [Penguin pages 28 to 82]

BELIEF IN THE PART ONE IS PLAYING [Penguin pages 28 to 32]

When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be. In line with this, there is the popular view that the individual offers his performance and puts on his show 'for the benefit of other people'. It will be convenient to begin a consideration of performances by turning the question around and looking at the individual's own belief in the impression of reality that he attempts to engender in those among whom he finds himself.

At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When his audience is also convinced in this way about the show he puts on - and this seems to be the typical case - then for the moment at least, only the sociologist or the socially disgruntled will have any doubts about the 'realness' of what is presented.

At the other extreme, we find that the performer may not be taken in at all by his own routine. This possibility is understandable, since no one is in quite as good an observational position to see through the act as the person who puts it on. Coupled with this, the performer may be moved to guide the conviction of his audience only as a means to other ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception that they have of him or of the situation.

When the individual has no belief in his own act and no ultimate concern with the beliefs of his audience, we may call him cynical, reserving the term 'sincere' for individuals who believe in the impression fostered by their own performance. It should be understood that the cynic, with all [page 29] his professional disinvolvement, may obtain unprofessional pleasures from his masquerade, experiencing a kind of gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he can toy at will with something his audience must take seriously.1

It is not assumed, of course, that all cynical performers are interested in deluding their audiences for purposes of what is called 'self-interest' or private gain. A cynical individual may delude his audience for what he considers to be their own good, or for the good of the community, etc. For illustrations of this we need not appeal to sadly enlightened showmen such as Marcus Aurelius or Hsun Tzu. We know that in service occupations practitioners who may otherwise be sincere are sometimes forced to delude their customers because their customers show such a heartfelt demand for it. Doctors who are led into giving placebos, filling station attendants who resignedly check and recheck tyre pressures for anxious women motorists, shoe clerks who sell a shoe that fits but tell the customer it is the size she wants to hear - these are cynical performers whose audiences will not allow them to be sincere. Similarly, it seems that sympathetic patients in mental wards will sometimes feign bizarre symptoms so that student nurses will not be subjected to a disappointingly sane performance. 2

2. See Taxel, 'Authority Structure in a Mental Hospital Ward', page 4. Harry Stack Sullivan has suggested that the tact of institutionalised performers can operate in the other direction, resulting in a kind of noblesse-oblige sanity. See his 'Socio-Psychiatric Research', American Journal of Psychiatry, x, pages 987-8: 'A study of "social recoveries" in one of our large mental hospitals some years ago taught me that patients were often released from care because they had learned not to manifest symptoms to the environing persons; in other words, had integrated enough of the personal environment to realise the prejudice opposed to their delusions. It seemed almost as if they grew wise enough to be tolerant of the imbecility surrounding them, having finally discovered that it was stupidity and not malice. They could then secure satisfaction from contact with others, while discharging a part of their cravings by psychotic means'.

FRONT [Penguin pages 32 to 40]

... It will be convenient to label as 'front' that part of the individual's performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who who observe the performance. ...


First, there is the 'setting', involving furniture, dé physical layout, and other background items which supply the scenery and stage props...

In thinking about the scenic aspects of front, we tend to think of the living room in a particular house...

[But, Goffman says, we should also remember hired settings such as gentlemen's clubs, or professional settings such as the hospitals doctors work in. He also refers to settings that follow people like royalty around]. ...

'setting' [refers] to the scenic parts of expressive equipment... 'personal front' [refers] to the other items of expressive equipment, the items that we most intimately identify with the performer ... that we naturally expect will follow the performer... As part of personal front we may include: insignia of office or rank; clothing; sex, age and racial characteristics; size and looks; posture; speech patterns; facial expressions; bodily gestures; and the like.

Goffman E. 1961A
Asylums. Essays on the Social Situation of Mental patients and Other Inmates

Preface [to the book of four essays] [Penguin pages 7-9]

From Autumn 1954 to the end of 1957 I was a visiting member of the Laboratory of Socio-environmental Studies of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. During these three years I did some brief studies of ward behavior in the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. In 1955-6 I did a year's field research at St Elizabeth's Hospital, Washington, DC., a federal institution of somewhat over 7,000 inmates that draws three-quarters of its patients from the District of Colombia. Later additional time for writing up the material was made possible by an NIMH grant, M- 4111(A), and through participation in the Center for the Integration of Social Science Theory at the University of California at Berkley.


During the study, the Laboratory of Scio-environmental Studies, then headed by its originating director, John Clausen, provided my salary....


this freedom and opportunity to engage in pure research was afforded me in regard to a government agency, through the financial support of another government agency, both of which were required to operate in the presumably delicate atmosphere of Washington, and this was done at a time when some universities in this country, the traditional bastions of free inquiry, would have put more restrictions on my efforts. For this I must than the open- and fair-mindedness of psychiatrists and social scientists in government.

Erving Goffman, Berkley, California, 1961

Introduction [to the book of four essays] [Penguin pages 11-12 Aldine pages xxi-xxii]

A total institution may be defined as a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life. Prisons serve as a clear example, providing we appreciate that what is prison-like about prisons is found in institutions whose members have broken no laws. This volume deals with total institutions in general and one example, mental hospitals, in particular.

The main focus is on the world of the inmate, not the world of the staff. A chief concern is to develop a sociological version of the structure of the self.
The first paper, ' On the Characteristics of Total Institutions, is a general examination of social life in these establishments, drawing heavily on two examples that feature involuntary membership - mental hospitals and prisons. There the schemes developed in detail in the remaining papers are stated and their place in the broader whole suggested.

The second paper, The Moral Career of the Mental Patient, considers the initial effects of institutionalisation on the social relationships the individual possessed before he became an inmate.

The third paper, The Underlife of a Public Institution, is concerned with the attachment the inmate is expected to manifest to his iron home and, in detail, with the way in which inmates can introduce some distance between themselves and these expectations.

The final paper, The Medical Model and Mental Hospitalisation, turns attention back to the professional staffs to consider, in the case of mental hospitals, the role of the medical perspective in presenting to the inmate the facts of his situation.

Goffman E. 1961A/1
On the Characteristics of Total Institutions [Penguin title page: 13 - Aldine title page: 1]


Section 1 - p.15

Social establishments - institutions in the everyday sense of that term - are places such as rooms, suites of rooms, buildings, or plants in which activity of a particular kind regularly goes on.

Section 2 - p.15

Every institution captures something of the time and interest of its members and provides something of a world for them; in brief, every institution has encompassing tendencies. When we review the different institutions in our Western society, we find some that are encompassing to a degree discontinuously greater than the ones next in line. Their encompassing or total character is symbolised by the barrier to social intercourse with the outside and to departure that is often built right into the physical plant, such as locked doors, high walls, barbed wire, cliffs, water, forests, [p.16] or moors. These establishments I am calling total institutions, and it is their general characteristics I want to explore.

The total institutions of our society can be linked in five rough groupings:

Section 3 - p.17

A basic social arrangement in modern society is that the individual tends to sleep, play and work in different places with different co-participants, under different authorities, and without an over-all rational plan.

The central feature of total institutions can be described as a breakdown of the barriers ordinarily separating these three spheres of life.

Individually, these features are found in places other than total institutions ... housewives or farm families may have all their major spheres of life within the same fenced-in-area, but these persons are not collectively regimented and do not march through the day's activities in the immediate company of a batch of similar others.


In total institutions there is a basic split between a large managed group, conveniently called inmates, and a small supervisory staff. Inmates typically live in the institution and have restricted contact with the world outside the walls. The staff often operates on an eight-hour day and is socially integrated into the outside world. Each grouping tends to conceive of the other in terms of narrow hostile stereotypes...
p.19: Social mobility between the two strata is grossly restricted; social distance is typically great and often formally prescribed. Even talk across the boundaries may be conducted in a special tone of voice...

The Inmate World


2. The recruit comes into the establishment with a conception of himself made possible by certain stable social arrangements in his home world. Upon entrance he is immediately striped of the support provided by these arrangements. In the accurate language of some of our oldest total institutions, he begins a series of abasements, degradations, humiliations, and profanations of self. His self is systematically, if often unintentionally mortified. He begins some radical shifts in his moral career, a career composed of the progressive changes that occur in the beliefs that he has concerning himself and significant others.

The processes by which a person's self is mortified are fairly standard in total institutions [and] analysis of these processes can help us to see the arrangements that ordinary establishments must guarantee if members are to preserve their civilian selves.

[I have numbered the elements of Goffman's analysis 1 to 7, emboldening key terms]

[1] The barrier that total institutions place between the inmate and the wider world marks the first curtailment of self.

[2] We very generally find staff employing what are called admission procedures

[3] ... there is a special need to obtain initial cooperativeness.. The occasion on which staff members first tell the inmate of his deference obligations may be structured to challenge ... Thus these initial moments of socialisation may involve an 'obedience test' and even a will- breaking contest.


Admission procedures and obedience tests may be elaborated into a form of initiation that has been called 'the welcome' where staff or inmates, or both, go out of their way to give the recruit a clear notion of his plight. As part of this rite of passage, he may be called by a term such as "fish" or "swab", which tells him that he is merely an inmate, and, what is more, that he has a special low status even in this low group.

The admission procedure can be characterised as a leaving off and a taking on, with the midpoint of physical nakedness

[personal possessions]

One set of the individual's possessions has a special relation to self. The individual ordinarily expects to exert some control over the guise in which he appears before others. For this he needs cosmetic and clothing supplies, tools for applying, arranging, and repairing them, and an accessible, secure place to store these supplies and tools - in short, the individual will need an 'identity kit' for the management of his personal front.

On admission to a total institution, however, the individual is likely to be stripped of his usual appearance and of the equipment and the services by which he maintains it, thus suffering a personal defacement. Clothing, combs, needle and thread, cosmetics, towels, soap, shaving sets, bathing facilities - all these may be taken away or denied him, although some may be kept in inaccessible storage, to be returned if and when he leaves.

[Editorial image and comment:

Whilst it is possible to believe that these five ladies, inmates of Stoke Park Colony in the early 1930s, had some choice over their self- presentation in the first photograph, it is difficult to see what control over the presentation of self they had in the second. To smile, or not to smile?

The colony was run by the National Institution for Persons Requiring Care and Control and its total control over the lives of inmates enable it to photograph these ladies (and others) clothed and naked and to publish the photographs in a book. The scientific excuse for this was that the photograph is supposed to illustrate a connection between mind and body.

Andrew Roberts]

Goffman E. 1961A/2
The Moral Career of the Mental Patient [Penguin title page: 117 - Aldine title page: 125]


Traditionally the term career has been reserved for those who expect to enjoy the rises laid out within a respectable profession. The term is coming to be used, however, in a broadened sense to refer to any social strand of any person's course through life...

One value of the concept of career is its two-sidedness.

  • One side is linked to internal matters held dearly and closely, such as image of self and felt identity;

  • the other side concerns official position, jural relations, and style of life, and is part of a publicly accessible institutional complex.

The concept of career, then, allows on to move back and forth between the personal and the public, between the self and its significant society...

[My] main concerns will be with the moral aspects of career - that is, the regular sequence of changes that career entails in the person's self and in his framework of imagery for judging himself and others.

Psychiatric and sociological concepts of the mental patient

Editorial Table (Andrew Roberts). Goffman is using mentally ill as a psychiatric concept and mental patient as a sociological concept. He outlines four categories into which people may fit:
mental patient's who are mentally ill to start with

Sick by psychiatric standards and a mental patient in the sociological sense

mental patient's who are not mentally ill to start with

Robust by psychiatric standards but somehow gets caught up in the heavy machinery of hospital servicing.

Mentally ill people who are not (hospitalised) mental patients

Sick by psychiatric standards but never viewed as such by self and others.

Neither mentally ill nor a mental patient


The category "mental patient" itself will be understood in one strictly sociological sense. In this perspective, the psychiatric view of a person becomes significant only in so far as this view itself alters his social fate - an alteration which seems to become (p. 120) fundamental in our society when, and only when, the person is put through the process of hospitalisations

I therefore exclude certain neighboring categories: the undiscovered candidates who would be judged "sick" by psychiatric standards but who never come to be viewed as such by themselves or others, although they may cause everyone a great deal of trouble; the office patient whom a psychiatrist feels he can handle with drugs or shock on the outside; the mental client who engages in psychotherapeutic relationships.

And I include anyone, however robust in temperament, who somehow gets caught up in the heavy machinery of mental hospital servicing. In this way the effects of being treated as a mental patient can be kept quite distinct from the effects upon a person's life of traits a clinician would view as psychopathological.

Persons who become mental hospital patients vary widely in the kind and degree of illness that a psychiatrist would impute to them, and in the attributes by which laymen would describe them. But once started on the way, they are confronted by some importantly similar circumstances and respond to these in some importantly (p. 121) similar ways. Since these similarities do not come from mental illness, they would seem to occur in spite of it. It is thus a tribute to the power of social forces that the uniform status of mental patient cannot only assure an aggregate of persons a common fate and eventually, because of this, a common character, but that this social reworking can be done upon what is perhaps the most obstinate diversity of human materials that can be brought together by society

(p. 122)

The career of the mental patient falls popularly and naturalistically into three main phases: the period prior to entering the hospital, which I shall call the prepatient phase; the period in the hospital, the inpatient phase the period after discharge from the hospital, should this occur, namely the ex-patient phase. [emphasis added] This paper will deal only with the first two phases

{footnote} This simple picture is complicated by the somewhat special experience of roughly a third of ex-patients - namely, readmission to the hospital, this being the recidivist or 'repatient' phase


The Prepatient Phase

A relatively small group of prepatients come into the mental hospital willingly, because of their own idea of what will be good for them, or because of wholehearted agreement with the relevant members of their family. Presumably these recruits have found themselves acting in a way which indicates to them that they are losing their minds or losing control of themselves. This view of one-self would seem to be one of the most pervasively threatening things that can happen to the self in our society...

Coupled with the person's disintegrative reevaluation of himself will be the new, almost equally pervasive circumstance of attempting to conceal from others what he takes to be the new fundamental facts about himself, and attempting to discover whether others too have discovered them - Here I want to stress that perception of losing one's mind is based on culturally derived and socially engrained stereotypes as to the significance of symptoms such as hearing voices, losing temporal and spatial orientation, and sensing that one is being followed...
For the person who has come to see himself - with whatever justification - as mentally unbalanced, entrance to the mental hospital can sometimes bring relief, perhaps in part because of the sudden transformation in the structure of his basic social situations -, instead of being to himself a questionable person trying to maintain a role as a full one, he can become an officially questioned person known to himself to be not so questionable as that. In other cases, hospitalisation can make matters worse for the willing patient, confirming by the objective situation what has theretofore been a matter of the private experience of self.

Once the willing prepatient enters the hospital, he may go throuch the same routine of experiences as do those who enter unwillingly. In any case, it is the latter that I mainly want to consider, since in America at present these are by far the more numerous kind.

{footnote 9: The distinction employed here between willing and unwilling patients cuts across the legal one of voluntary and committed, since some persons who are glad to come to the mental hospital may be legally committed, and of those who come only because of strong familial pressure, some may sign themselves in as voluntary patients.

Their approach to the institution takes one of three classic forms: they come because they have been implored by their family or threatened with the abrogation of family ties [125] unless they go "willingly"; they come by force under police escort, they come under misapprehension purposely induced by others, this last restricted mainly to youthful prepatients.

The prepatient's career may be seen in terms of an extrusory model; he starts out with relationships and rights, and ends up, at the beginning of his hospital stay, with hardly any of either. The moral aspects of this career, then, typically begin with the experience of abandonment, disloyalty, and embitterment. This is the case even though to others it may be obvious that he was in need of treatment, and even though in the hospital he may soon come to agree.

The case histories of most mental patients document offenses against some arrangement for face-to-face living - a domestic establishment, a work place, a semi- public organisation such as a church or store, a public region such as a street or park. Often there is also a record of some complainant, some figure who takes that action against the offender which eventually leads to his hospitalisation. This may not be the person who makes the first move, but it is the person who makes what turns out to be the first effective move. Here is the social beginning of the patient's career, regardless of where one might locate the psychological beginning of his mental illness.

The kinds of offenses which lead to hospitalisation are felt to differ in nature from those which lead to other extrusory consequences-to imprisonment, divorce, loss of job, disownment, regional exile, noninstitutional, psychiatric treatment, and so forth.


The society's official view is that inmates of mental hospitals are there primarily because they are suffering from mental illness. However, in the degree that the mentally ill" outside hospitals numerically approach or surpass those inside hospitals, one could say that mental patients distinctively suffer not from mental illness, but from contingencies.

Career contingencies occur in conjunction with a second feature of the prepatient's career - the circuit of agents -and [127] agencies - that participate fatefully in his passage from civilian to patient status


The depth to which the patient may feel betrayed by his next-of-relation seems to be increased by the fact that another witnesses his betrayal... the offence has become a public social fact. When the witness is a mental health commission, as is sometimes the case, the witnessed betrayal can verge on a 'degradation ceremony'

[Reference to Garfinkel, G. 1956 "Conditions of successful degradation ceremonies". Goffman had assisted Garfinkle with this article.]


I am suggesting that the prepatient starts out with at least a portion of the rights, liberties, and satisfactions of the civilian and ends up on a psvchiatric ward stripped of almost everything. The question here is how this stripping is managed. This is the second aspect of betrayal I want to consider.

As the prepatient may see it, the circuit of significant figures can function as a kind of betrayal funnel. Passage from person to [131] patient may be effected through a series of linked stages, each managed by a different agent. While each stage tends to bring a sharp decrease in adult free status, each agent may try to maintain the fiction that no further decrease will occur. He may even manage to turn the prepatient over to the next agent while sustaining this note. Further, through words, cues, and gestures, the prepatient is implicitly asked by the current agent to join with him in sustaining a running line of polite small talk that tactfully avoids the administrative facts of the situation, becoming, with each stage, progressively more at odds with these facts. The spouse would rather not have to cry to get the prepatient to visit a psychiatrist; psychiatrists would rather not have a scene when the prepatient learns that he and his spouse are being seen separately and in different ways; the police infrequently bring a prepatient to the hospital in a straitjacket, finding it much easier all around to give him a cigarette, some kindly words, and freedom to relax in the back seat of the patrol car; and finally, the admitting psychiatrist finds he can do his work better in the relative quiet and luxury of the "admission suite" where, as an incidental consequence., the notion can survive that a mental hospital is indeed a comforting place. If the prepatient heeds all of these implied requests and is reasonably decent about the whole thing, he can travel the whole circuit from home to hospital without forcing anyone to look directly at what is happening or to deal with the raw emotion that his situation might well cause him to express. His showing consideration for those who are moving him toward the hospital allows them to show consideration for him, with the joint result that these interactions can be sustained with some of the protective harmony characteristic of ordinary face-to-face dealings. But should the new patient cast his mind back over the sequence of steps leading to hospitalization, he may feel that everyone's current comfort was being busily sustained while his long-range welfare was being undermined. This realization may constitute a moral experience that further separates him for the time from the people on the outside


The Inpatient Phase

The last step in the prepatient's career can involve his realisation - justified or not - that he has been deserted by society and turned out of relationships by those closest to him... On entering the hospital, he may very strongly feel the desire not to be known to anyone as a person who could possibly be reduced to these present circumstances, or as a person who conducted himself in the way he did prior to commitment. Consequently,, he may avoid talking to anyone, may stand by himself when possible, and may even be "out of contact" or "manic" so as to avoid ratifying any interaction that presses a politely reciprocal role upon him and opens him up to what he has become in the eyes of others...


Once the prepatient begins to settle down, the main outlines of his fate tend to follow those of a whole class of segregated establishments - jails, concentrations camps, monasteries, work campus, and so on - in which the inmate spends the whole round of life on the grounds, and marches through his regimented day in the immediate company of a group of persons of his own institutional status.


Each time the staff deflates that patient's claims, his sense of what a person ought to be and the rules of peer-group social inter- course press him to reconstruct his stories; and each time he does this, the custodial and psychiatric interests of the staff may lead them to discredit these tales again

Behind these verbally instigated ups and downs of the self is an institutional base that rocks just as precariously... the 'ward system' ensures a great amount of internal social mobility in mental hospitals, especially during the inmates first year. During this time he is likely to have altered his service once, his ward three or four times, and his parole status several times; and he is likely to have experienced moves in bad as well as good directions. Each of these moves involves a very drastic alteration in level of living and in available materials out of which to build a self-confirming round of activities...


The moral career of a person of a given social category involves a standard sequence of changes in his way of conceiving of selves, including, importantly, his own. These half-buried lines of development can be followed by studying his moral experiences - that is, happenings which mark a turning point in the way in which the person views the world...
Each moral career, and behind this, each self, occurs within the confines of an institutional system, whether a social establishment such as a mental hospital or a complex of personal and professional relationships. The self, then, can be seen as something that resides in the arrangements prevailing in a social system for its members. The self in this sense is not a property of the person to whom it is attributed, but dwells rather in the pattern of social control that is exerted in connection with the person by himself and those around him. This special kind of institutional arrangement does not so much support the self as constitute it.

Goffman E. 1961A/3
The Underlife of a Public Institution: A Study of Ways of Making Out in a Mental Hospital [Penguin title page: 159 - Aldine title page: 171]

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Hospital Underlife

Part Three: Conclusions

Part One: Introduction

Primary and Secondary Adjustments

When an individual cooperatively contributes required activity to an organisation and under required conditions...he is transformed into a cooperator; he becomes the 'normal', 'programmed', or built in member...

I shall speak in these circumstances of the individual having a primary adjustment to the organisation and overlook the fact that it would be just as reasonable to speak of the organisation having a primary adjustment to him.

I have constructed this clumsy term in order to get to a second one, namely secondary adjustments, defining these as any habitual arrangement by which a member of an organisation employs unauthorised means, or obtains unauthorised ends, or both, thus getting around the organisation's assumptions as to what he should do and get and hence what he should be.


An interest in the actual places in which secondary adjustments are practised... shifts the focus of attention from the individual to... collective matters. In terms of a formal organisation as a social establishment, the corresponding shift would be from an individual's secondary adjustment to the full set of such adjustments that all memebers of the organisation severally and collectively sustain. These practices together comprise what can be called the underlife of the institution, being to a social establishment what an underworld is to a city.


We can begin to look at secondary adjustments - at the practices comprising the underlife of social establishments - by noting that they occur with different frequency and in different forms according to the location of the practitioner in the hierarchy of the organisation.

Part Two: Hospital Underlife


I turn now to consider the sources of materials that patients employ in their secondary adjustments


In central Hospital, as in many total institutions, each inmate tended to find his world divided into three parts...

First there was the space that was off-limits or out of bounds...

Second, there was surveillance space, the area a patient needed no special excuse for being in, but where he would be subject to the usual authority and restrictions of the establishment...

Finally, there was space ruled by less than usual staff authority...

... I shall call these regions free places

Sometimes... free places seemed to be employed for no purpose other than to obtain time away from the long arm of the staff and from the crowded noisy wards... All of these places seemed pervaded by a feeling of relaxation and self-determination, in marked contrast to the sense of uneasiness prevailing on some wards. Here one could be ones own man.

Encounters. Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction

"Role Distance"

In sociology there are few concepts more commonly used than "role," few that are accorded more importance...

Role Concepts

The classic formulation of role concepts comes from the social-anthropological tradition (*) and has led to the development of a conceptual framework sometimes called "role theory."

Goffman 1963

Stigma : Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

Page numbers from the Penguin 1968 edition. The picture is based on Briggs and McLaren's cover for this edition.

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts -

I am sixteen years old now and I dont know what to do and would appreciate it if you could tell me what to do. When I was a little girl it was not so bad because I got used to the kids on the block makeing fun of me, but now I would like to have boy friends like the other girls and go out on Saturday nites, but no boy will take me because I was born without a nose - although I am a good dancer and have a nice shape and my father buys me pretty clothes.

I sit and look at myself all day and cry. I have a big hole in the middle of my face that scares people even myself so I cant blame the boys for not wanting to take me out. My mother loves me, but she crys terrible when she looks at me.

What did I do to deserve such a terrible bad fate? Even if I did do some bad things I didnt do any before I was a year old and I was born this way. I asked Papa and he says he doesnt know, but that maybe I did something in the other world before I was born or that maybe I was being punished for his sins. I dont believe that because he is a very nice man. Ought I commit suicide?

Sincerely yours,


This is a fictional letter from the 1933 novel Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

[page 9] Preface

... stigma - the situation of the individual who is disqualified from full social acceptance.

[page 11] Stigma and Social Identity

Preliminary Conceptions

Society establishes the means of categorizing persons and the complement of attributes felt to be ordinary and natural for members of each of these categories. Social settings [page 12] establish the categories of persons likely to be encountered there. The routines of social intercourse in established settings allow us to deal with anticipated others without special attention or thought. When a stranger comes into our presence, then, first appearances are likely to enable us to anticipate his category and attributes, his "social identity" - to use a term that is better than "social status" because personal attributes such as "honesty" are involved, as well as structural ones, like "occupation." We lean on these anticipations that we have, transforming them into normative expectations, into righteously presented demands. Typically, we do not become aware that we have made these demands or aware of what they are until an active question arises as to whether or not they will be fulfilled. It is then that we are likely to realize that all along we have been making certain assumptions as to what the individual before us ought to be. Thus, the demands we make might better he called demands made "in effect" and the character we impute to the individual might better be seen as an imputation made in potential retrospect - a characterization "in effect," a virtual social identity. The category and attributes he could in fact be proved to possess will be called his actual social identity.

While the stranger is present before us, evidence can arise of his possessing an attribute that makes him different from others in the category of persons available for him to be, and of a less desirable kind- in the extreme, a person who is quite thoroughly bad, or dangerous, or weak. He is thus reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one. Such an attribute is a stigma, especially when its discrediting effect is very extensive; sometimes it is also called a failing, a shortcoming, a handicap. It constitutes a special discrepancy between virtual and [page 13] actual social identity.

[page 14]

Three grossly different types of stigma may be mentioned. First there are abominations of the body - the various physical deformities. Next there are blemishes of individual character perceived as weak will, domineering or unnatural passions, treacherous and rigid beliefs, and dishonesty, these being inferred from a known record of, for example, mental disorder, imprisonment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicidal attempts, and radical political behavior. Finally there are the tribal stigma of race, nation, and religion, these being stigma that can be transmitted through lineages and equally contaminate all members of a family. In all of these various [page 15] instances of stigma, however, ..., the same sociological features are found: an individual who might have been received easily in ordinary social intercourse possesses a trait that can obtrude itself upon attention and turn those of us whom he meets away from him, breaking the claim that his other attributes have on us. He possesses a stigma, an undesired differentness from what we had anticipated. We and those who do not depart negatively from the particular expectations at issue I shall call the normals

The attitudes we normals have toward a person with a stigma, and the actions we take in regard to him, are well known, since these responses are what benevolent social action is designed to soften and ameliorate. By definition, of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human. On this assumption we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his life chances. We construct a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain his inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalizing an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class. We use specific stigma terms such as cripple, bastard, moron in our daily discourse as a source of metaphor and imagery, typically without giving thought to the original meaning. We tend to impute a wide range of imperfections on the basis of the original one, and at the same time to impute some desirable but undesired attributes, often of a supernatural cast, such as "sixth sense," or "understanding": [page 16]


[page 17]

In America at present... the stigmatized individual tends to hold the same beliefs about identity that we do; this is a pivotal fact. His deepest feelings about what he is may be his sense of being a "normal person," a human being like anyone else, a person, therefore, who deserves a fair chance and a fair break


[page 31] The Own and the Wise

Earlier it was suggested that a discrepancy may exist between an individual's virtual and actual identity. This discrepancy, when known about or apparent, spoils his social identity; it has the effect of cutting him off from society and from himself so that he stands a discredited person facing an unaccepting world. In some cases, as with the individual who is born without a nose, he may continue through life to find that he is the only one of his kind and that all the world is against him. In most cases, however, he will find that there are sympathetic others who are ready to adopt his standpoint in the world and to share with him the feeling that he is human and "essentially" normal in spite of appearances and in spite of his own self-doubts. Two such categories will be considered.

The first set of sympathetic others is of course those who share his stigma. Knowing from their own experience what it is like to have this particular stigma, some of them can [page 32] provide the individual with instruction in the tricks of the trade and with a circle of lament to which he can withdraw for moral support and for the comfort of feeling at home, at ease, accepted as a person who really is like any other normal person.


[page 57] 2. Information Control and Personal Identity.


[page 64] Visibility


[page 92]


It is apparent that if a stigmatizing affliction possessed by an individual is known to no one, including himself, as in the case, say, of someone with undiagnosed leprosy or unrecognized petit mal [page 93] seizures, then the sociologisthas no interest in it, except as a control device for learning about the "primary" or objective implications of the stigma. Where the stigma is nicely invisible and known only to the person who possessesit, who tells no one, then here again is a matter of minor concern in the study of passing. The extent to which either of these two possibilities exists is of course hard to assess.

In a similar way, it should be clear that if a stigma were always immediately apparent to any and all persons with whom an individual had contact, then one's interest would be limited, too, although there would be some interest in the question of how much an individual can cut himself off from contact and still be allowed to function freely in society, in the question of tact and its breakdown, and in the question of self-derogation.

It is apparent, however, that these two extremes, where no one knows about the stigma and where everyone knows, fail to cover a great range of cases. First, there are important stigmas, such as the ones that prostitutes, thieves, homosexuals, beggars, and drug addicts have, which require the individual to be carefully secret about his failing to one class of persons, the police, while systematically exposing himself to other classes of persons, namely, clients, fellow-members, connections, fences, and the like. Thus, no matter what role tramps assume in the presence of the police, they often have to declare themselves to house- wives in order to obtain a free meal, and may even have to expose their status to passers-by because of being served on back porches what they understandably call "exhibition meals."

[page 94] Secondly, even when an individual could keep an unapparent stigma secret, he will find that intimate relations with others, ratified in our society by mutual confession of invisible failings, cause him either to admit his situation to the intimate or to feel guilty for not doing so. In any case, nearly all matters which are very secret are still known to someone, and hence cast a shadow.

Similarly, there are many cases where it appears that an individual's stigma will always be apparent, but where this proves to be not quite the case; for on examination one finds that the individual will occasionally be in a position to elect to conceal crucial information about himself. For example, while a lame boy may seem always to present himself as such, strangers can momentarily assume that he has been in a temporarily incapacitating accident, just as a blind person led into a dark cab by a friend may find for a moment that sight has been imputed to her; or a blind man wearing dark glasses sitting in a dark bar may be taken as a seeing person by a newcomer; or a double hand-amputee with hooks watching a movie may cause a sexually forward female sitting next to him to scream in terror over what her hand has suddenly found. Similarly, black skinned Negroes who have never passed publicly may nonetheless find themselves, in writing letters or making telephone calls, projecting an image of self that is subject to later discrediting.

Given these several possibilities that fall between the extremes of complete secrecy on one hand and complete information on the other, it would seem that the problems people face [page 95] who make a concerted and well-organized effort to pass are problems that wide ranges of persons face at some time or other

Goffman 1963
Behaviour in Public Places, Notes on the Social Organisation of Gatherings.

The Structure of Face Engagements

Earlier it was suggested that a consideration of situational proprieties can be divided into two analytical parts - unfocused interaction, concerned with what can be communicated between persons merely by virtue of their presence together in the same social situation; and focused interaction, concerned with clusters of individuals who extend one another a special communication license and sustain a special type of mutual activity that can exclude others who are present in the situation. It is this focused interaction that will now be considered.

1. Civil Inattention

When persons are mutually present and not involved together in conversation or other focused interaction, it is possible for one person to stare openly and fixedly at others, gleaning what he can about them while frankly expressing on his face his re sponse to what he sees--for example, the "hate stare" that a Southern white sometimes gratuitously gives to Negroes walking past him. 1 It is also possible for one person to treat others as if they were not there at all, as objects not worthy of a glance, let (p.84) alone close scrutiny. Moreover, it is possible for the individual, by his staring or his "not seeing," to alter his own appearance hardly at all in consequence of the presence of the others. Here we have "nonperson" treatment; it may be seen in our society in the way we sometimes treat children, servants, Negroes, and mental patients. 2

Currently, in our society, this kind of treatment is to be contrasted with the kind generally felt to be more proper in most situations, which will here be called "civil inattention." What seems to be involved is that one gives to another enough visual notice to demonstrate that one appreciates that the other is present (and that one admits openly to having seen him), while at the next moment withdrawing one's attention from him so as to express that he does not constitute a target of special curiosity or design.

In performing this courtesy the eyes of the looker may pass over the eyes of the other, but no "recognition" is typically allowed...


When two persons are mutually present and hence engaged together in some degree of unfocused interaction, the mutual proffering of civil inattention - a significant form of unfocused interaction - is not the only way they can relate to one another. They can proceed from there to engage one another in focused interaction, the unit of which I shall refer to as a face engagement or an encounter. Face engagements comprise all those instances of two or more participants in a situation joining each other openly in maintaining a single focus of cognitive and visual attention-what is sensed as a single mutual activity, entailing preferential communication rights. As a simple example -and one of the most common-when persons are present together in the same situation they may engage each other in a talk. This accreditation for mutual activity is one of the broadest of all statuses. Even persons of extremely disparate social positions can find themselves in circumstances where it is fitting to impute it to one another. Ordinarily the status does not have a "latent phase" but obliges the incumbents to be engaged at that very moment in exercising their status.

Mutual activities and the face engagements in which they are embedded comprise instances of small talk, commensalism, love-making, gaming, formal discussion, and personal servicing (treating, selling, waitressing, and so forth) . In some cases, as with sociable chats, the coming together does not seem to have a ready instrumental rationale. In other cases, as when a teacher pauses at a pupil's desk to help him for a moment with a problem he is involved in, and will be involved in after she moves on, the encounter is clearly a setting for a mutual instrumental activity, and this joint work is merely a phase of what is primarily an individual task. It should be noted that while many face engagements seem to be made up largely of the exchange of verbal statements, so that conversational encounters can in fact be used as the model, there are still other kinds of encounters where no word is spoken. This becomes very apparent, of course, in the study of engagements among children who have not yet mastered talk, and where, incidentally, it is possible to see the gradual transformation of a mere physical contacting of another into an act that establishes the social relationship of jointly accrediting a face-to-face encounter. Among adults, too, however, nonverbal encounters can be observed: the significant acts exchanged can be gestures, or even, as in board and card games, moves. Also, there are certain close comings-together over work tasks which give rise to a single focus of visual and cognitive attention and to intimately coordinated contributions, the order and kind of contribution being determined by shared appreciation of what the task-at-the-moment requires as the next act. Here, while no word of direction or sociability may be spoken, it will be understood that lack of attention or coordinated response constitutes a breach in the mutual commitment of the participants.

Where there are only two participants in a situation, an encounter, if there is to be one, will exhaust the situation, giving us a fully-focused gathering. With more than two participants, there may be persons officially present in the situation who are officially excluded from the encounter and not themselves so engaoed. These unengagedl" participants change the gathering into a Partly-focused one. If more than three persons are present, there may be more than one encounter carried on in the same situations multifocused gathering. I will use the term Participation unit to refer both to encounters and to unengaged participants; the term bystander will be used to refer to any individual present who is not a ratified member of the particular encounter in question, whether or not he is currently a member of some other encounter.

In our society, face engagements seem to share a complex of properties, so that this class of social unit can be defined analytically, as well as by example.

An encounter is initiated by someone making an opening move, typically by means of a special expression of the eyes but sometimes by a statement or a special tone of voice at the beginning of a statement's The engagement proper begins when this overture is acknowledged by the other, who signals back with his eyes, voice, or stance that he has placed himself at the disposal of the other for purposes of a mutual eye-to-eye activity even if only to ask the initiator to postpone his request for an audience.

There is a tendency for the initial move and the responding "clearance" sign to be exchanged almost simultaneously, with all participants employing both signs, perhaps in order to prevent an initiator from placing himself in a position of being denied by others. Glances, in particular, make possible this effective simultaneity. In fact, when eyes are joined, the initiator's first glance can be sufficiently tentative and ambiguous to allow him to act as if no initiation has been intended, if it appears that his overture is not desired.

Eye-to-eye looks, then, play a special role in the communication life of the community, ritually establishing an avowed openness to verbal statements and a rightfully heightened mutual relevance of acts. In Simmel's words:

Of the special sense-organs, the eye has a uniquely sociological function. The union and interaction of individuals is based upon mutual glances. This is perhaps the most direct and purest reciprocity which exists anywhere. This highest psychic reaction, however, in which the glances of eye to eye unite men, crystallises into no objective structure; the unity which momentarily arises between two persons is present in the occasion and is dissolved in the function. So tenacious and subtle is this union that it can only be maintained by the shortest and straightest line between the eyes, and the smallest deviation from it, the slightest glance aside, completely destroys the unique character of this union. No objective trace of this relationship is left behind, as is universally found, directly or indirectly, in all other types of associations between men, as, for example, in interchange of words. The interaction of eye and eye dies in the moment in which directness of the function is lost. But the totality of social relations of human beings, their self assertion and self-abnegation, their intimacies and estrangements, would be changed in unpredictable ways if there occurred no glance of eye to eye. This mutual glance between persons, in distinction from the simple sight or observation of the other, signifies a wholly new and unique union between them.

It is understandable, then, that an individual who feels he has cause to be alienated from those around him will express this through some "abnormality of the gaze," especially averting of the eyes. And it is understandable, too, that an individual who wants to control others' access to him and the information he receives may avoid looking toward the person who is seeking him out. A waitress, for example, may prevent a waiting customer from "catching her eye" to prevent his initiating an order. Similarly, if a pedestrian wants to ensure a particular allocation of the street relative to a fellow pedestrian, or if a motorist wants to ensure priority of his line of proposed action over that of a fellow motorist or a pedestrian, one strategy is to avoid meeting the other's eyes and thus avoid cooperative claims. And where the initiator is in a social position requiring him to give the other the formal right to initiate all encounters, hostile and teasing possibilities may occur.

As these various examples suggest, mutual glances ordinarily must be withheld if an encounter is to be avoided, for eye contact opens one up for face engagement. I would like to add, finally, that there is a relationship between the use of eye-to-eye glances as a means of communicating a request for initiation of an encounter, and other communication practices. The more clearly individuals are obliged to refrain from staring directly at others, the more effectively will they be able to attach special significance to a stare, in this case, a request for an encounter. The rule of civil inattention thus makes possible, and "fits" with, the clearance function given to looks into others' eyes. The rule similarly makes possible the giving of a special function to "prolonued" holding of a stranger's glance, as when unacquainted persons who had arranged to meet each other manage to discover one another in this way.

Once a set of participants have avowedly opened themselves up to one another for an engagement, -an eye-to-eye ecological huddle tends to be carefully maintained, maximising the opportunity for participants to monitor one another's mutual perceivings. The participants turn their minds to the same subject matter and (in the case of talk) their eyes to the same speaker, although of course this single focus of attention can shift within limits from one topic to another and from one speaker or target to another. A shared definition of the situation comes to prevail. This includes agreement concerning perceptual relevancies and irrelevancies, and a "working consensus," involving a degree of mutual considerateness, sympathy, and a muting of opinion differences. Often a group atmosphere develops - what Bateson has called ethos. At the same time, a heightened sense of moral responsibility for one's acts also seems to develop. A "we-rationale" develops, being a sense of the single thing that we the participants are avowedly doing together at the time. Further, minor ceremonies are likely to be employed to mark the termination of the engagement and the entrance and departure of particular participants (should the encounter have more than two members). These ceremonies, along with the social control exerted during the encoun. ter to keep participants "in line," give a kind of ritual closure to the mutual activity sustained in the encounter. An individual will therefore tend to be brought all the way into an ongoing encounter or kept altogether out of it.

Engagements of the conversational kind appear to have, at least in our society, some spatial conventions. A set of individuals caused to sit more than a few feet apart because of furniture arrangements will find difficulty in maintaining informal talk; those brought within less than a foot and a half of each other will find difficulty in speaking directly to each other, and may talk at an off angle to compensate for the closeness.

In brief then, encounters are organised by means of a special set of acts and gestures compromising communication about communicating. As a linguist suggests:

There are messages primarily serving to establish, to prolong, or to discontinue communication, to check whether the channel works ("Hello, do you hear me?"), to attract the attention of the interlocutor or to confirm his continued attention ("Are you listening?" or in Shakesperean diction, "Lend me your ears!" - and on the other end of the wire "Um-hum!").

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