Erving quoted, built upon and picked apart by

Erving Goffman
(1922-1982) first conceptualised his notions of impression management through
his book, The Presentation of The Self in 1959. Goffman’s
dramaturgical approach is a metaphorical technique used to explain how individuals
present an idealised version of themselves rather than their authentic self during
a set period of time before a particular set of observers (B. Hogan, 2010). His
theory relies on the concept of a front stage and a back stage. Where, a front
stage is typically defined as when an individual pick and chooses the aspects of
their personality that they wish to present or “perform to an audience” in a
given scene. Whilst our back stage as Goffman defines it, is akin to the stage
after a given performance, the working behind the stage that no one else pays
heed to. There is not one single front stage that we groom to perfection, nor a
single back stage, but several. According to Goffman’s definition, any front
stage can be a back stage to another front stage. Academics working in their
office present a front to the colleagues at their department by showing
studiousness and perhaps not surfing the net. However, this front may also
involve long periods of deliberation on a piece of work that is hidden from
another front: the audience at a conference.

A waiter presents a font to his customers by being
very polite and patient whilst speaking towards them and refraining from
speaking any more than necessary. Yet, while on break amongst co workers he may
have a handful of complaints and does not hold as much patience as he presents to
his customers. However, this back stage may be another front stage to when he
is around family or friends, where he may hold his tongue on certain topics and
maintain, at the most, friendly conversations with co-workers, he may actually
be loud and boisterous in nature when conversing with those closer to him.

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Furthermore, since its
birth, the ideology has been quoted, built upon and picked apart by scholars
from a variety of branches such as
Jürgen Habermas, Harold Garfinkel, Bernie Hogan, Alison Hearn, Sherry Turkle, Charles Cheung and so forth. Moreover,
Goffman’s dramaturgical approach is frequently considered a useful foil for
understanding online presentation of self (Bernie Hogan, 2010).

However, despite the
importance of his work in everyday face to face interactions as well as in CMC
contexts, his research was conducted and strung together during the late 50’s,
just before the social revolution of the 1960’s that rocket past all
expectations of formalities and social distinctions documented in his notes. (Andy
Oram, 2009) As a result of this, the way in which we apply his theories to our
everyday lives has changed, even morphed to suit the adoption of the digital
beast that is social media. Additionally, much of the research
conducted upon impression management and presentation of self, including that
on the formation of online identities and self-presentation online (see Turkle,
1995) occurred during the 1990’s, focusing primarily on technologies of its
time, which were majorly text-based in nature.

The
presentation of self plays an important role in our everyday, Face to Face
interactions, as well as in CMC contexts and communicators take advantage of
the tools provided, by the medium, to selectively present themselves (Walther,
1996; 2006).

I do disagree with the
argument that Goffman’s theories are completely inapplicable, even “outdated”
(Andy Omar, 2009) due to a course of years since its beginning, in fact, his
underlying framework is still as solid and as relevant now as when it
was first stitched together, specifically with the eruption of the digital self
that we’ve curated over the stretch of multiple social medias; we’ve been
provided with the tools to enhance and manipulate our front face far more than
simple FtF interactions, which was his primary focus at the time of his
findings. Communication technology of the modern age, such as
Facebook, YouTube, online video games, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and so
forth, still retain the capabilities of their forerunners. Moreover, they also
present new inventions, new challenges to the presentation of self; however,
they have yet to be examined as thoroughly.

faces. (m) However, several articles draw more
explicitly on the dramaturgical approach to suggest that sites based on access
control are inherently private, and therefore, a “back stage” (boyd, 2006;
Lewis et al., 2008; Robinson, 2007)

 

.

 

“Goffman’s
approach certainly applies online, because our postings–even our instant
messages–are more deliberate acts than our informal
behaviours in real life…they
must have greater consciousness of their effects
on the viewer thanmost dinner table guests or concert attendees. Our online
personas, therefore, conform even more
closely to Goffman’s idea of everyday life
than our everyday life does.” (A. Oram. 2009).

Whilst
I agree with the italicized, furthering my point of how Goffman’s notions of
impression management are more relevant now than ever, I believe outdated is an
incorrect term to describe how time has changed the way we adopt his work;
“Outdated” paints his work as inapplicable and unusable but that is not the
case. As stated before, that is in fact the opposite, impression management is still a widely used and
understood notion by many, especially in the world of social media. If we were
to compare the two, the similarities between the physical, self-communicated
self and the electronic self-outweigh the differences. In both senses, we are
presenting ourselves as how we want our observers to see us, carefully
distinguishing between those aspects we want visible and those we do not, to
project our desired impression. Only, in the electronic realm, our presented
self- the front stage- is submerged in a virtual world where even when we are
not active or “online”, our presented self is, and carries on living. Welser,
Smith, Fisher, and Gleave (2008) note, “many social interactions now take place
in contexts where people leave traces of their identity, their actions, and
their social relations” (p. 116). In a way, our self that lingers in cyberspace
is an extension of the self we design to present in everyday life, yet it
exists in a way not previously available, due to limited technology.