Alex David Wright Writes

#4 The self is not a fixed entity — it is a social process.

Although images of other human beings can encourage voyeurism instead of meaningful engagement with others, they are also a way of situating oneself within the world and making sense of it. And the more one learns to situate oneself within the world, the more one realises that there is not one self that one is trying to situate within the world, but that oneself is actually oneselves.

These selves are, according to Erving Goffman, dynamic and various. There are as many selves as there are people one cares about. People are actors, according to Goffman's dramaturgical theory of social interaction, which seems rather cynical on first encounter and perhaps suggests that human beings are by default manipulative and false. But this is not the case, according to Efrat Tseëlon: Goffman is not suggesting that people qua actors are trying to hide 'truth', but rather they are trying to avoid sharing irrelevant information with the wrong person. The point is that one always tries to conduct oneself appropriately in accordance with what a given 'audience' wants or needs. Goffman sees interaction as a 'social game' — game is the ‘point of the interaction, an end in itself […]a game of representation. This might again seem rather cynical, but it is not a case of acting honestly in private and dishonestly in public.

If Goffman is right, it might go some way to explain why neurodivergent peoples find interaction so exhausting. More on this in the next post.


Goffman, Erving. 1957. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin Books.

First, individuals often foster the impression that the routine they are presently performing is their only routine or at least their most essential one. As previously suggested, the audience, in their tum, often assume that the character projected before them is all there is Co the individual who acts out the projection for them. As suggested in the well-known quotation from William James: we may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. Many a youth who is demure enough before his Parents and teachers, swears and swaggers like a pirate among his tough young friends. We do not show ourselves to our children as to our club companions, to put customers as to the labourers We cmploy, to our own masters and employers as to our intimate friends.

Tseëlon, Efrat. 1992. ‘Is the Presented Self Sincere? Goffman, Impression Management and the Postmodern Self’. Theory Cult. Soc. 9 (2): 115–28.

“The self for Goffman is not an independent fixed entity which resides in the individual. Rather, it is a social process, ‘In dramaturgical analysis the meaning of the human organism is established by its activity and the activity of others with respect to it . . . selves are outcomes not antecedents of human interaction’ (Brissett and Edgley, 1975: 3).

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