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The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Goffman’s most famous work is also one of the most beloved books in all of sociology. His chic writing style and witty insights into the minutiae of everyday existence make him a fun read, but don’t overlook his big claims on the social order. As you join Goffman on his journey into the everyday, expect to find yourself recalling some of your own failed efforts to manage your impressions. Answer the following questions after completing the reading.


1. Goffman begins the reading by describing two extremes of performances—sincerity and cynicism. Define these two extremes in your own words and then describe why shamans can be both sincere and cynical.

2. In the section “Misrepresentation,” Goffman describes how almost all performances require a little duping on the part of the performer: “Instead of merely doing his task and given vent to his feelings, he will express the doing of his task and acceptably convey his feelings. In general, then, the representation of an activity will vary in some degree from the activity itself, and therefore inevitably misrepresent it.” In your own words, describe why misrepresentation is such a consistent part of our performances.

3. Idealization refers to performances that uphold and reaffirm the moral concerns of society. However, maintaining an idealized version of the self requires a great deal of expressive control. Using Goffman’s imagery of the stage, describe a situation (perhaps from current events, popular culture, or your own life) where an individual failed to give off an idealized self.

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