This 10 mark question came up on the November 2021 A-level sociology exam paper (AQA), here I provide an elaborated answer based on the guidance in the mark scheme.
In a 10 mark question without the item you are expected to fully discuss any of the two ways/ reasons/ criticisms mentioned in the question. You have to analyse (e.g. show the logical links between points/ pick up on differences) but there are no specific marks for evaluation (although some analytical points may be evaluative in nature!).
NB this isn’t a complete answer, just some thoughts on how you might approach this question.
How is consumption affected by social class?
The mark scheme suggests the following:
popular, mass, high and folk cultures and social class
differences between social classes in leisure opportunities and choices
financial resources for consumption
time considerations because of work commitments
expectations about what it is acceptable for different social classes to consume
taste as a symbol of identity.
How to answer this question using the bullet points…
You need to pick up on the two bits of the question, in this case ‘social class’ and ‘consumption’ and then draw the links between them… you are looking for two differences between social class that lead to two differences in consumption.
Actually it’s not a bad idea to quickly do a list in note form like the above, and then your ‘two ways’ can just be fusing these bullets together, that way you are guaranteed to include more concepts and theories and show the links between them.
Looking at the list above I’d personally pick material differences between social classes and then cultural/ social norm differences, so your two ways are:
Social class, money and consumption differences
Social class, culture (norms and values) and consumption differences
Social class, money and differences in consumption
People lower down the social class scale have less money so are less able to engage in more expensive forms of conspicuous consumption.
Whereas those with more money are more likely to engage in consumption of expensive clothes and cars to display their wealth and perceived higher status.
This may have the effect of pushing consumption of culture more into the private realm for the poor – out of a sense of shame, whereas in the public realm what we tend to see is the more affluent side of consumption of culture.
Lower incomes also means those lower down the social class scale have to work longer hours to survive meaning they have less leisure time to engage in consumption, possibly meaning leisure is more passive rather than active.
Social class, cultural differences and differences in consumption
Lower social classes possess less cultural and social capital than higher classes.
This means children growing up have less knowledge about high culture (classical music and so on) and are less likely to know people who work in the high cultural arts (lack of social capital) .
They thus have less access to such cultural products and so are less likely to want to consume them.
In contrast the elite class actively encourage their children to consume high culture from a young age, and these people are more likely to grow up and into consuming such products.
The fact that high culture is very much upper-middle class may actually act as a further barrier to working class kids and adults wanting to consume it.
Lower social class groups are more likely to consume popular or mass culture because it is much more accessible (and cheaper).
A Marxist take on this is that the lower classes are being pacified by mass culture, although postmodernists would rather see this as still a matter of choice.
Those from higher classes invested in high culture may look down on popular culture and see it as inferior, thus avoid consuming it for this reason, believing their high culture products to be indicative superior taste.
Sources and signposting
For advice on how to approach the sociology exams please see my page on exams advice.
Herbert Gans criticised mass culture theorists by suggesting there was a plurality of cultures in America, each of equal value.
Writing in the 1970s Herbert J. Gans noted that America was developing a plurality of taste cultures which existed side by side with each other. He identified several different types of culture including:
quasi-folk low culture
cultures based on age and ethnicity
Gans believed that each of these cultures were of equal worth and that all peoples had a right to engage with the culture they preferred. He was against cultural theorists who viewed high culture as superior and mass or popular culture as worthless.
Herbert J. Gans types of culture: a summary
Gans defined high culture as works of art, music and ‘serious’ literature which looked critically at social and psychological issues, emphasising these over story line and entertainment.
High culture paid more attention to abstract social and philosophical questions and subjecting societal assumptions to critique – it was more about ‘high philosophy’ rather than ‘politics on the ground’.
Upper-middle culture was the culture of well-educated middle class professionals who enjoyed reading works of fiction with more plot than was found in high culture. They enjoyed works such as those written by Norman Mailer.
Upper-middle culture rejected anything that was too experimental or abstract and also anything that was too vulgar and populist.
Lower-middle class culture was the dominant taste culture in America, exemplified by Cosmopolitan magazine and enjoyed by mainly lower middle class professionals such as teachers.
Low culture was the culture of the old working classes who liked stories about individuals and families with problems and action films. This is the culture of country music and tabloid newspapers
Quasi folk culture is a blend of pre WWII culture and commercialism enjoyed by Blue collar workers and the rural poor and includes comics, old westerns and soap operas.
For Gans total cultures were cultures which existed completely outside of mainstream society and were critical of mainstream society. Total cultures were not followed by many people but they attracted a disproportionate amount of media concern and worry from other people.
There were five types of total culture:
communal cultures – which involved people living in communes
political cultures – for example groups wishing to overthrow the American government
religious cultures – for example people living in world rejecting sects.
neo-dadist cultures – experimental artists and musicians
drug and music cultures.
Partial cultures were part-time versions of total cultures. Partial cultures were also critical of aspects of mainstream society but hey were closer to mainstream society than total cultures and more likely to have been commercially exploited than total cultures.
According to Gans ‘ethnic cultures’ were a form of partial culture – each group of immigrants bought their own culture with them to America but this culture was less important to the successive generations of children born in America.
The hierarchy of tastes
Gans noted that was a hierarchy of tastes with High culture at the top, followed by upper-middle class culture, but this hierarchy was only because of the social class hierarchy in America at the time.
The cultures at the top had more status because the people who created and consumed them had more money to pile into creating cultural products and maintaining their status, but there was no intrinsic way in which high culture was superior to low culture.
in other words high culture wasn’t ‘superior’ to low middle class culture because it was better on merit, it was simply ‘superior’ because those involved with it were higher up the social class hierarchy.
Gans also believed there were no hard and fast barriers between different types of taste cultures – people were free to pick and mix from aspects of different cultural types.
Evaluations of Gans
Gans perspective is useful for criticising the critics of mass culture. For Gans, mass or popular culture had value in that it provided entertainment for people rather than being worthless.
However he did still come across as seeming to respect high culture more than other forms of culture!
Gans’ description of culture in America is far more accurate than mass cultural theorists as he recognises that there is much greater plurality in ‘popular culture’, and he recognises the differences across class and ethnic lines too.
However, in reality cultural divisions in America were probably a lot more clear cut than even Gans suggested!
Signposting and relevance to A-level sociology
This material is primarily relevant to students studying towards to culture and identity option as part of the AQA’s specification.
Anthony Giddens is one of the world’s leading sociologists and one of the main critics of Postmodern thought – and should be taught as part of the second year A level Sociology module in Theory and Methods. Below is a summary of one of his major works – Modernity and Self-Identity (the introduction and chapter one).
Introduction – An Overview of the Whole Book –
Modernity is more complex and interconnected than ever before and modern institutions are more dynamic than at any previous point in history – at both an institutional level and in terms of how they impact on the individual and intimate life.
In modernity there is an increasing interconnection between two extremes – the global and personal dispositions (extensionality and intentionality).
The new mechanisms of self-identity shape and are shaped by the institutions of modernity and Sociology is a fundamental part of the institutional reflexivity of modernity.
There is a basic dialectic between modern institutions which encourage the repression of ‘living out’ existential questions in day to day life and the emergence of life-politics which seeks to manifest them.
Late Modernity has the following characteristics:
It is more intensely reflexive.
There has been a profound reorganisation of time and space – disembedding mechanisms change the nature of day to day social life.
It institutionalises radical doubt – all knowledge takes the form of a hypothesis – claims which may be true are always potentially open for revision such that the self has to be continuously (re-) made amidst a puzzling array of possibilities.
In circumstances of uncertainty and multiple choice the notions of risk and trust become central. Trust is necessary to form a protective cocoon so that we may ‘go on’ with our day to day life. Risk is also central – in modernity the future is continuously drawn into the present by means of the reflexive organisation of knowledge environments. Modernity makes some areas of life safer, but also opens up new risks.
The influence of distant happenings on proximate events become more and more common place – the media is common place and is what binds us together in this (against hyperreality).
Because of all of the above ‘lifestyle’ becomes central – reflexively organised life planning becomes a central feature of the structuring of self-identity, which normally presumes a consideration of risks as filtered through contact with expert knowledge.
The Pure Relationship is the main type of relationship.
Re-skilling becomes central to life.
The construction and control of the body becomes central.
Science, technology and expertise play a more fundamental role in the ‘sequestration of experience’. The overall thrust of modern institutions is to create settings of action ordered in terms of modernity’s own dynamics and severed from external criteria’ – as a result action becomes severed from existential questions.
Mechanisms of shame rather than guilt come to the fore in late modernity. Narcissism and personal meaninglessness become the main problems of self-development – ”authenticity’ is frequently devoid of any moral anchoring.
Yet the repression of existential questions is not complete – and life politics emerges in response.
Baudrillard confuses the pervasive impact of mediated experience with the internal referentiality of the social systems of modernity – these systems become largely autonomous and determined by their own constitutive influences.
The construction of self identity does not float free – class and other divisions can be partially defined through differential access to opportunities for self-actualisation.
Chapter One – The Contours of High Modernity
Starts with the example of divorce to illustrate the gist of the chapter.
The experience of intimate life is not separate from social life. High modernity demands that we continually remake ourselves, and so it is with many relationships – as evidenced in the persistent high divorce rate, which is simply a consequence of the ‘pure relationship’ being the main type of relationship today.
Divorce is not necessarily a tragedy – for some it is an opportunity to further develop themselves, while for others they retreat into a resigned numbness. To make a ‘success’ out of divorce, one has to mourn it, accept that the marriage is ended, and move on!
Modernity: Some general considerations:
Modernity has the following features –
It is industrial – social relations are rooted in the widespread use of material power and machinery in production processes.
It is capitalist – we live in a system of commodity production which involves both competitive product markets and the commodification of labour power.
There are significant institutions of surveillance – the supervisory control of subject populations – both visible and in terms of the use of information to coordinate social activities.
We live in the context of the industrialisation of war – modernity has ushered in a context of ‘total war’ – the potential destructive power of weaponry, most obviously nuclear arms, is immense.
Modernity produces certain distinct social forms – most obviously the nation state, or a system of nation states, which follow coordinated policies or plans on a global scale – nation states permit and entail concentrated reflexive monitoring.
Modernity is also characterised by extreme dynamism – the current world is a runaway world – the pace, scope and profoundness of changes is significantly greater than any time before.
The peculiar character of modernity consists in the following:
Firstly – the separation of time and space and the emptying out of time and space – the clock being the most obvious manifestation which presumed deeply structured changes in the tissue of everyday life, which were universalising, on a global scale. This is a dialectical process – the severance of time from space allows for new formations – such as the ‘use of history to make history’ – as in the significance of the year 2000, just because it was the year 2000.
Secondly – the disembedding of social institutions – the lifting out of social relations from local contexts. There are two main ways this occurs – through symbolic tokens (such as money) and expert systems (therapists) and each of these permeate every aspect of late-modern life, and both depend on trust. Trust, a leap of faith is essential – because in a disembedded system we cannot know everything. Risk is also part of this.
Institutional reflexivity is the third feature of late modernity – the regularised use of knowledge about circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organisation and transformation.
The local, the global and the transformation of day-to-day-life
There is a dialectic between Modernity’s universalising efforts and the actual consequences: In the attempt to know and predict everything, in fact competing knowledge systems have emerged, and there is no way of knowing with any certainty which is correct, thus uncertainty lies at the heart of daily life.
The mediation of experience
Today, virtually all experience is mediated, but this does not result in post-modern fragmentation – in fact mediation is precisely what unifies all of us – pre-modern life is what was truly fragmented. We are now all painfully and persistently aware of the various modern problems which we cannot escape.
The Existential Parameters of High Modernity
The Future is the driving force of high modernity – or rather the attempt to colonise it based on the use of knowledge. We do this in the context of risk – We are all confronted with uncertainty because the rise of competing expert systems just makes us more uncertain. Expert knowledge has failed to make the world more predictable.
Why Modernity and Personal Identity?
Because never before has there been a time when so many people have been unified into the demands to reflexively make themselves – it is the institutional context of modernity which makes this possible – Globalisation, and abstract systems demand that we engage in self-construction, and therapy becomes central to this.
An ‘extended summary’ of Erving Goffman’s ‘Presentation of Self in Daily Life’ including his concepts of front and backstage, performers and audiences, impression management, idealisation, dramatic realisation, manipulation, discrepant roles and tact.
Chapter One: Performances
Goffman distinguishes between two approaches to acting out social roles: sincerity and cynicism.
Sincere individuals really believe their act is an expression of their own identity, and truly want others to believe this too (the ‘typical’ case), while cynical individuals do not invest ‘themselves’ in their roles, they are acting with a means to another end, which can either be for self-gain (like a conman) or for the benefit of the people around them (a teacher who acts strict but is not necessarily like this in real life).
To quote Goffman:
“At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; and he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When the audience is also convinced in this way about the show he put one – 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… the performer may be moved to guide the conviction of the audience only a means to other ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception they have of him or of the situation.“
Goffman goes on to say that people can oscillate between these two extremes as they move through different stages of their lives. He gives the example of a new recruit to the army who first of all acts out the disciplined training routine and hates it but must go along with it in order to avoid punishment, but after time comes to feel that a disciplined life has real meaning for him personally.
Goffman uses the term ‘performance’ to refer to “all the 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 observers. ‘Front’ is ‘that part of the individuals performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance”.
There are three things an individual can use to establish a ‘social front‘ – Setting, Appearance and Manner (the final two Goffman calls ‘personal front’).
‘Setting’ refers to the fixed elements of front – the physical layout of a room and associated background props – someone’s work space or living room is a good example of a ‘setting’.
‘Appearance’ consists of those things we most closely associate with the person themselves – the things which ‘follow them around’ and consists of fixed attributes such as one’s racial background or age, as well as things like clothes and the items one chooses to carry around.
‘Manner’ is the attitude to one’s setting one displays – confidence, humility, authority etc.
We generally expect there to be consistency between setting, appearance and manner, but these don’t always match up.
Goffman also notes that we are constrained by society in terms of the front we can put on. If we adopt certain roles in society, we don’t actually have that much choice over the front which we can adopt – we are required by social norms to put on a certain front, and there is little room for manoeuvre.
He further suggests that the same sorts of front are required in many different roles – so if we successfully learn to project one front in one setting, we can apply that front to many others.
“While in the presence of others, the individual typically infuses his activity with signs which dramatically highlight and portray confirmatory facts which might otherwise remain hidden.“
Many social roles and ‘status positions’ require a certain amount of energy to be invested in the performance of the activities associated with them, energy that is in excess to actually performing the tasks associated with the roles themselves.
One of the best illustrations of this is the Aristocracy – who spend an enormous amount of intentional energy on performing day to day tasks with excess decorum in order to distinguish themselves from others. There are rituals associated with dress codes, greetings, eating, body language, speech and so on….
To give a more mundane example, many jobs require people do certain things to convince the customer or client that they are competent.
A problem in social life is that “those who have the time and the talent to perform a task well may not, because of this, have the time or talent to make it apparent that they are performing well.“
There are many roles which we are required to fill in social life, and so one finds that people must choose which performances to invest their egos in; some social roles and some routines are deemed to be more important than others.
“When the individual presents himself before others his performance will tend to incorporate and exemplify officially accredited values of the society, more so, in fact, than does his behaviour as a whole.“
“To the degree that the performance highlights the common official values, we may look upon it as an expressive reaffirmation of the moral values of the community“(Maybe a nod to Durkheim there?).
To go out in the world is to attend a wedding, a celebration, to stay in one’s room is to miss out on the party.
People play up or down their actual status according to how they think others perceive them (without actually buying into it)…. Social Mobility requires a good performance – often conceived of as making sacrifices in order to maintain ‘front’,
People also engage in negative idealisation, which involves concealment – people will, for example, ‘play down’ when they are interacting with people they believe to be of lower status, in order to fit in with them (although this may not be appreciated by that particular audience)
“a performer tends to conceal or under-play those activities, facts and motives, which are incompatible with an idealized version of himself and his products.’ There are a number of discrepancies between appearance and overall reality”:
Hiding the profit which is made from a performance
Hiding the mistakes made during a performance
Hiding the effort that goes into preparing a performance (the back-stage work)
Hiding any illegal activities
Hiding double standards – this happens because we are often expected to maintain multiple values/ standards which are cannot all be maintained – for example a team at a restaurant may have to sacrifice quality for speed of service, but keep quite about the decline in quality and hope this isn’t picked up on by the audience.
Hiding of origins – people tend to hide the fact they were something else before their performance, giving off the impression that they have always been this way.
In addition, a performer often engenders in his audience the belief that he is related to them in a more ideal way than is always the case.
An important part of keeping aspects a performance hidden involves practising audience segregation – different performances associated with different roles are often meant for different audiences, who ideally won’t see the actor in any of his other performances. This is especially important because something actors do is to make any particular audience feel as if they are special, the most important audience, when in reality they are just one audience amongst many.
Maintenance of expressive control
Performers can reasonably expect minor cues to be read by their audience as signs of something significant. Unfortunately, the opposite is also the case – minor cues which were not intended to be read by the audience may also be taken to be of significance and these may undermine the image the performer is trying to present.
These accidents and unmet gestures are very common and there are three general types:
Losing muscular control – tripping, yawning, belching
Showing too little or too much concern with the interaction
Lacking dramaturgical direction – the setting may be sloppy, or the timing of aspects of a performance wrong.
“The expressive coherence that is required in performances points out a crucial discrepancy between out all-too-human selves and our socialised selves. As human beings we are presumably creatures of variable impulse with moods and energies that change from one moment to the next. As characters for an audience, however, we must not be subject to ups and downs. A certain bureaucratisation of the spirit expected so that we can be relied upon to give a perfectly homogeneous performance at any given time”.
The same tendency of the audience to accept the importance of signs (even if they are not meant to give off any meaning) which leads to the need for expressive control also opens up the opportunity for the performer to manipulate the audience through using signs to signify things which have no basis in reality.
Not all misrepresentation is the same. For example we tend to think more harshly of someone acting up to a higher status than acting down to a lower status. Also, some statuses are ambiguous. We can prove easily that someone is not a legal professional, but it is not so easy to prove someone is not a ‘true friend’.
Most misrepresentation is not about blatant lying, it is about not putting on display everything one has to do fulfil one’s social roles, and there are hardly any roles in society where everyone can be completely open about everything the do without losing face in some way.
One of the easiest ways to maintain an idealised image of oneself is to maintain a distance between oneself and one’s audience – The more distance a performer can keep between them and their audience, the more elbow room they have to maintain an idealised image of themselves (Kings should not mix with ordinary people).
Reality and Contrivance
We generally tend to think of performances as being of one or two types – the sincere and the contrived. The former are not acted, they come from the unconscious ‘pure self’ of the individual who really believes in what they are doing, the later is the cynic, acting out a role without really believing in it.
But most performances on the social stage fall somewhere between these two realities. What is required in social life is that the individual learn enough about role-playing to fulfil the basic social roles that are required of him during his life – most of us ‘buy into this’ and act out what is expected of us, so we invest an element of ourselves into our roles, but at the same time we don’t necessarily get into our roles in a gung-ho sort of way…. So most acting is neither fully ‘sincere’ or fully ‘contrived’.
Chapter two: teams
People don’t just engage in the presentation of the self as single actors, performances (or attempts to define the situation) are often conducted in teams – Goffman uses the term ‘performance team’ to refer to a group of people who collaborate in staging a single performance.
Goffman notes two features of teams engaging in dramaturgical cooperation.
Firstly, anyone can one of the team members can mess up a performance, and everyone is dependent on the good conduct of everyone else.
Secondly, team members have a degree of ‘familiarity’ with one another – which means that they share a back-stage where they will drop their collective performance.
Teams have to conceal certain aspects of their activity to make their collective performance effective: for example the fact that they have engineered, or practised a ‘party line’ is hidden because a collective front seems more sincere if the audience thinks all the members agreed on the performance independently.
In large organisations the party line can become rather thin because it is difficult to keep everyone happy.
Also in order to be sincere, teams need to hold a united front, and so corrective sanctioning tends to be done backstage.
Teams have a division of labour – they have directors, they have those who are more dramatically dominant than others, and they have those that actually do the tasks (rather than the performance) which the team is expected to do.
Chapter three: regions and region behaviour
“In our Anglo-American society, a relatively indoor one, when a performance is given it is usually given in a highly bounded region, to which boundaries with respect to time are often added. The impression and understanding fostered by the performance will tend to saturate the region and time span, so that any individual located in this space-time manifold will be in a position to observe the performance and be guided by the definition of the situation which the performance fosters”.
Goffman famously distinguished between what have become known as frontstage and backstage regions of social life.
During a performance in a front region, the performer tries to convince the audience that that his activities in the region maintain and embody certain standards. To do this he engages in ‘talk’ with the audience – actual verbal and non-verbal gestural interchanges, and also practices ‘decorum’ – maintaining moral standards and manners but where he just visible to the audience rather than interacting with them gesturally.
One form of decorum is called ‘make work’ – people acting like they are busy even when there is not work to be done when in the presence of a superior. Everyone knows what’s going on but to not act this out would be to show disrespect to one’s superiors.
A backstage region is where the impression fostered by a performance is contradicted as a matter of course. Here a performer can relax, and step out of character.
Backstage is a place where the performer expects the audience not to go, and they are necessary if the worker is to buffer himself from the deterministic demands that go along with a performance.
NB – The ability to control both front and backstage is a fundamental power distinction in society. Some have more power to control both than others.
Some regions are permanently front regions — such as churches or schoolrooms, so much so that people act in them with a certain deference even if they are not members of their congregations. Similarly some other regions are notably backstage. Such areas set the tone for the interaction.
In other regions, they can sometimes be backstage and front stage at different times – the household for example on Sunday morning or while entertaining.
Goffman now provides some examples of where some groups of people lack control over backstage or where the ‘walls’ between front and backstage are too thin to maintain effective boundaries.
He also notes that the boundary between back and front stage is a great place to observe transformation of character.
Where teams are concerned, familiarity backstage may not be total. Three things put paid to this – firstly team members still need to convince other team members that they are worthy players, secondly, they may need to maintain morale for the forthcoming performance, thirdly, where there are differences in age and gender, acts may be put on to differentiate these – it is very rare in cultures that men and women will fully relax backstage with each other for example.
“In saying that performers act in a relatively informal, familiar, relaxed way while backstage and are on their guard while giving a performance, it should not be assumed that the pleasant interpersonal things of life – courtesy, warmth, generosity are reserved for those backstage and that suspiciousness, snobbishness, and a show of authority are reserved for front region activity.
Often it seems that whatever enthusiasm and lively interest we have at our disposal we reserve for those before whom we are putting on a show and the surest sign of backstage solidarity is to feel that it is safe to lapse into an associable mood of sullen, silent irritability.“
A third area for consideration is the outside, and outsiders – those who are not supposed to witness the performance. Embarrassment can occur when outsiders unexpectedly stumble across a performance meant for others only. Strategies can be employed to overcome this (such as loudly welcoming them or shunning them) but these rarely work to avoid embarrassment.
Chapter four: discrepant roles
“One overall objective of any team is to sustain the definition of the situation that its performance fosters. Given the fragility and the required expressive coherence of the reality that is dramatized by a performance, there are usually facts which, if attention is drawn to them during the performance, would discredit, disrupt, or make useless the impression that the performance fosters.
These facts may be said to provide ‘destructive information’. (in order for performances to work) the audience must not require destructive information about the situation that is being defined for them… A team must be able to keep its secrets, and have its secrets kept”.
There are three general types of secret:
Dark secrets – these are things which the team would want no one to know because their disclosure would fundamentally undermine the team’s credibility – The fact that Barclay’s Bankers regularly engage in Fraud for example
Strategic secrets – These are secrets which give a team a competitive advantage over another team – so their disclosure would harm the team but not discredit them
Insider secrets – basically ‘tricks of the trade’ – knowledge which allows teams to put on a good performance but the disclosure of which would not really harm the team in the eyes of the audience.
Goffman also distinguishes between entrusted and free secrets – which are to do with the kind of secrets an individual has in relation to his team. the former are those which if not kept by an individual would discredit both himself and his team if not kept, the later would discredit the team but not the individual if not kept.
Secrets are not the only sources of destructive information – there are also ‘latent secrets’ (harmful facts about which there is no hard evidence about) and unintended gestures – basically accidents and unmeant gestures.
There are three general roles involved in any social situation –
The performers who define the situation and have destructive information about the performance
The audience who largely accept the definition of the situation but do not have destructive information
Outsiders who no little of either of the above.
There, are however, a number of ‘discrepant roles’ which occur on top of the above three major roles:
the non person: e.g. the servant, the very young and the very old.
There are also four additional discrepant roles – who are not present in a performance but have information about it (who may be present in our minds of performers while they are acting out roles).
The service specialist
Chapter five: communication out of character
Discrepant sentiment is nearly always found when we study institutions. There are nearly always occasions when team members make it clear to each other that they are just playing a role, and they communicate with each other out of character – there are four types of communication in which the performer engages which are incompatible with the impression trying to be collectively portrayed to an audience – treatment of the absent, staging talk, team collusion and realigning action.
Treatment of the absent – When backstage it is especially common for team members to speak in a derogatory way about the audience, and ritual profanations of the performance are part of this.
Staging talk – refers to discussion about the front stage apparatus and their suitability for impression management.
Team collusion – Performers often use secret signs to signal to each other during a performance. These may be secret messages pertaining to what they think of certain audience members, this may just be ‘catching the eye’ of another member of the team and a sly glance. One notable form of this is ‘derisive collusion’, an example of which is school children in class passing notes to each-other.
Realigning action – these are guarded exchanges between teams which send out feelers and set the tone for interaction where the boundaries are not clear
“each of these four types of conduct directs attention to the same point: the performance given by a team is not a spontaneous, immediate response to the situation absorbing all of the team’s energy; the performance is something the team members can stand back from, back far enough to imagine or play out simultaneously other kinds of performances attesting to other realities.“
Chapter six: the arts of impression management
Unmeant gestures, inopportune interruptions and the like are sources of dissonance and embarrassment, but both performers and audience alike tend to have strategies for ‘saving the show’ and to prevent masks falling off in many performance situations.
Performers engage in defensive attributes and practices
Dramaturgical loyalty – attempts to achieve high levels of in-group solidarity to prevent some members of the team becoming too close to the audience and giving away dark or strategic secrets; regularly changing audience may also be another strategy.
Dramaturgical discipline – simply where each member of the team learns to better control aspects of their performance
Dramaturgical circumspection – basically trying to select the audience that is likely to be the kindest – teachers prefer middle class schools, salesmen prefer to sell to one rather than two people.
Audience members engage in protective practices
Goffman gives various examples – individuals voluntarily stay away from backstage areas, and audiences are careful to pay attention to the right aspects of a performance – when performances go wrong they practice tactful inattention for example.
Goffman finishing off by noting that performers and audiences need to be ‘tactful about tact’ – they need to be sensitive to when each is employing tact lest masks fall off and embarrassment is the result.
Chapter six: conclusion
It’s worth quoting the first page at length, because it basically summarises the whole book:
“…. any social establishment may be studied from the perspective of impression management. Within the walls of a social establishment we find a team of performers who cooperate to present to an audience a given definition of the situation. This will will include the conception of own team and of audience and assumptions concerning the ethos that is to be maintained by rules of politeness and decorum.
We often find division into back region, where the routine is prepared and front region, where the performance is presented. Access to backstage is controlled to prevent the audience and outsiders from seeing preparations. Among members of the team, we tend to find solidarity, familiarity and secrets being kept.
A tacit agreement is maintained between performers and audience to act as if a given degree of opposition and of accord existed between them. Typically, but not always, agreement is stressed and opposition is underplayed. The resulting working consensus tends to be contradicted by the attitude towards the audience which the performers express backstage and through communication out of character while ‘on stage’. We find that discrepant roles develop which complicate the problems of putting on a show.
Sometimes disruptions occur which threaten the definition of the situation which is being maintained. Performers and Audience all utilise techniques for saving the show – teams are careful to select loyal and circumspect members and prefer to play to audiences who are tactful.”
The analytical context
Goffman sees his ‘dramaturgical perspective’ as the fifth perspective among four already existing ones for viewing a social system (technical, political, structural, cultural)
“The dramaturgical perspective can be employed, like any other, as a final way of ordering facts. This would lead us to describe the techniques of impression management employed in a given establishment, the principal problems of impression management, and the identity and inter-relationships of the several performance teams within the establishment.“
Goffman also suggests that we can look at any of the above in relation to technical, cultural aspects of a social system as well.
He further suggests that we can look of all of the above in relation to their impact on the individual personality, the social interactions themselves and the wider society.
MORAL NOTE: THE ROLE OF EXPRESSION IS CONVEYING IMPRESSIONS OF SELF
To uncover fully the factual nature of the situation, it would be necessary for the individual to know all the relevant social data about others. Full information is rarely available; in its absence appearances must be relied upon instead.
The information off is treated as having a moral character – we tend to assume that people shouldn’t mislead us with the information they give off – even though we know full well that this is what we do, and that we also know that much information given off is not done so intentionally.
There is a basic dialectic:
“In their capacity as performers, individuals will be concerned with maintaining the impression that they are living up to the many standards by which they and their products are judged. Because these standards are so numerous and pervasive, the individuals who are performers dwell more than we might think in a moral world. But, qua performers, individuals are concerned not with the moral issue of realising these standards but with the amoral issue of engineering a convincing impression that these standards are being realised.”
The dialectic is that the more effort we put into managing the impression of being a moral actor, the more distant we come to feel from the standards we are acting out, and the more and higher the standards, the more effort, so the more distant we feel!
The key factor in this structure is the maintenance of a single definition of the situation, this definition having to be expressed, and this expression sustained in the face of a multitude of potential disruption. (These are the interactional tasks which all of us share).
Staging and the self
Goffman splits the individual into two –
The character (or characters): this is what the performer presents to the audience, the social self – which is constructed with the use of various props, a stage as setting and a team as collaborators. THE INDIVIDUAL CANNOT CONSTRUCT A SELF WITHOUT ALL OF THE SOCIAL STAGING THAT GOES ALONG WITH IT.
The performer: the harried actor who is putting on a performance – The performer’s own psychological well-being is fundamentally linked to his social-self.
Signposting and Sources
Goffman’s theory is one of the main social action theories taught as part of A-level sociology, within the Theories and Methods module.