Week 1, Lecture 2: The body and self as social Sociologists believe that the self (and in fact the body) can only be understood in relation to society, including its culture and social structures. That is, neither the self nor the body is fixed in its meaning; instead, we gain a sense of ourselves as people and an image of our body through our interactions with others. The second lecture will examine these ideas through the Symbolic Interactionist perspective. Like other disciplines, sociology is comprised of numerous, sometimes conflicting theoretical viewpoints. Each of these has its own history of development, revision and empirical study. Thus, we will start by going back to the beginning of Symbolic Interactionism as it emerged in the early 20th century US. We will describe how the concerns of Symbolic Interactionism differed from those of much ‘classical’ sociology and trace the development of some of this perspective’s key ideas. We will examine the work of several influential symbolic interactionists, including Blumer’s points about the significance of social meanings, Cooley’s notion of the ‘looking glass self’ and Mead’s concept of the ‘self as interaction’. We will move next to a discussion of Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The book is based on Goffman’s doctoral thesis and describes findings from 18 months of research on the face-to-face interactions of crofters living in the Shetland Islands. Because he lived and worked with the people he studied, Goffman’s project can be described as a example of ‘fieldwork’ or ‘participant observation’. Researchers involved in observational studies often try to become (at least temporary) members of the setting in order to understand the place and the people from their perspective. In many cases, scholars use this method when they are interested in inductive theory ‘building’ rather than in deductive hypothesis-testing. Given Goffman’s subject area and symbolic interactionist approach, it makes sense that he would select fieldwork as his research method. We will discuss why this is so. We will conclude by outlining some of the important aspects of Goffman’s ‘dramaturgical analysis’ of social life, in which he applied concepts from the theatre to examine processes of social interaction and identity construction. Goffman was interested in the strategies that humans use to create impressions of themselves in the minds of others, the many ways that this ‘impression management’ can go badly awry, and the various techniques employed to ‘save face’.
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