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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Final Major Project: Considering Others – Erving Goffman

“When the individual presents himself before others, his performance will tend to incorporate and exemplify the officially accredited values of the society, more so, in fact, than does his behaviour as a whole.”

– (Goffman, 2007: 45)

Every time you see a friend or acquaintance, they tell you that life is going great. When you look at their profile on social media, you see the same story. And their profile sits amongst a seemingly infinite number of profiles that reflect prosperity and happiness. So, is everyone else living better lives? 

Goffman theorised that human behaviour depends on the personal scenarios and relationships that we are presented with. 

He described the daily performances that occur in our face-to-face meetings with others suggesting that each of us attempts to control and guide the impression that the other person forms about us. We do this, he proposes, by altering our appearance and mannerisms.  In effect, we are wearing a mask when we meet people.  We then act our way through the interactions, revealing very little about our true authentic selves. Ultimately, we are all immersed in a constant handling of our image before the rest of the world, especially when it comes to our digital representation.


Figure 1: (Erving Goffman and the Social Action Theory – Exploring your mind 2017)

We are actors playing a role that appeals to the audience in front of us. We work hard to reflect those aspects of our identity that we wish to communicate to others. On social media, we seek to create representations of ourselves that reflect a positive and successful image. We create, curate and manipulate photographs and videos that show our successful and happy lives. But these representations are not showing our true identity. Instead, communicating the identity we want or desire.

Goffman also suggests that we behave in a certain way in these situations so that we do not embarrass ourselves or reveal too much about who we are beneath the front we put up. And with this, comes different performances in different settings. We change our masks and our behaviour in each situation.

Behind the mask is like going backstage at the theatre.  Goffman offers that this is a private place where we can be ourselves, removing the masks and revealing our true identity.


Figure 1: Erving Goffman and the Social Action Theory – Exploring your mind. 2017. Exploring your mind [online]. Available at: [accessed 19 June 2018].


Goffman, E. (2007). The presentation of self in everyday life. London [u.a.]: Penguin Books.

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