The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life Book Summary, by Erving Goffman

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Overall Summary

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is a study on how people present themselves to others. The author, Erving Goffman, focuses on both the performer and the viewer. Both are important for creating an impression that will influence viewers’ perceptions of performers. While individual performances can be analyzed by looking at how individuals interact with each other, it’s more difficult to analyze performance teams because they have multiple members who may or may not be working together toward a common goal.

Erving Goffman’s work focuses on the dynamics of interaction within a given social setting. He is able to account for various phenomena that are taken for granted, such as the relationship between workers and their boss or how a performer acts in front of an audience. Additionally, he categorizes people who one may encounter in everyday social settings (or what he calls “discrepant roles”). Finally, by focusing on the interaction within and between performance teams and their audience, Goffman provides a detailed description of how any given performer shifts between different modes of communication, such as formal vs informal when speaking with others.

Goffman’s style of communication allowed him to engage in an ethnography of social interactions. He saw how kitchen staff dried their clothes over the stoves, and he heard stories about customers who were gossiped about behind their backs. One can only account for these experiences by observing every possible position within a social situation.

Although Goffman’s main point is that we should understand the self, he also makes two implications. First, we shouldn’t treat performances as a reflection of someone’s moral character or as an indication of their entire being. Second, we should remind ourselves that the self is merely a product of everything that goes into sustaining and carrying out a performance. As Goffman says, “The self is a product of all these arrangements and in all its parts bears the marks of this genesis.”


Richard Goffman’s study of impression management is based on the idea that everyday life is full of social situations in which people present themselves to others. This presentation can be verbal, but it also includes nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. The way an individual presents himself or herself depends a lot on what he or she has said about him/herself previously and how other people perceive them as well. In this way, impressions are always being formed by those interacting with each other—whether they’re aware of doing so or not.

“When we allow that people project a definition of the situation when they appear in front of others, we must also see that those other people will respond to the person and initiate lines of action.”

Goffman’s focus is on the relationship between people, and how they present themselves in everyday situations. He defines an interaction as a face-to-face encounter that involves both parties influencing each other during their time together; a performance is everything one person does to influence another during an interaction; and he defines part or routine as what governs social roles, such as rights and duties attached to certain statuses. In order to better understand the presentation of ourselves in everyday life, we must first understand these relationships between interactions, performances, and social roles.

Chapter 1

Erving Goffman outlines eight key elements that comprise performances. They include belief, front, dramatic realization, idealization, the maintenance of expressive control and misrepresentation. The first element is belief. There are two types of people: those who believe in their roles and those who do not. A person with a cynical attitude does not believe in their social role or they perform one but have other intentions for it (e.g., philanthropist whose main concern is improving his/her image instead of helping the poor). By contrast, a sincere individual strongly identifies with their social role and its duties (e.g., doctor-patient). The second element is front. Front refers to what we see on stage as well as behind the scenes; both scenic and personal elements make up the background of an interaction (e.g., office setting vs attire worn by actors). While these remain largely in the background during interactions between individuals, they give us immediate clues about our surroundings when interacting with others.

The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life Book Summary, by Erving Goffman

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