Book Review; Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Richard Devine's Social Work Blog

By Richard Devine (22.05.2020)


Erving Goffman’s 1956 book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is considered one of the most important sociological texts of the twentieth century. His work is often a staple part of the social work curriculum. Goffman invokes language and imagery derived from theatre. This functions as an effective analogy to illustrate the different roles different individuals play in different settings and the use of props and setting to facilitate the expression of those roles. This terminology whilst highly effective on an analogical level can perhaps create the impression that his ideas are somewhat superficial. However, his ideas have considerable depth, both sociological and psychological and deserve serious consideration.

Performances, Idealization and Teams

Perhaps the most succinct summary his ideas is a quote he offers from Robert Ezra Park;

‘It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person, in its first person, is…

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‘BBC, Your Time Is Up…’ (2a/6)

Musical Matters...

In the first piece of what I announced as a six-part series, I promised that, on the way to producing my transcript and discussion of the Radio 4 broadcast Impartial Journalism in a Polarised World, I would analyse the blurb that someone at the BBC released to go along with the programme.

Me being me, I then set to work with a will … and what I found, of course, was that the little blurb — a mere four paragraphs, you may recall! —  was actually such a thicket of lies and manipulations that untangling it took several weeks and literally thousands of words. The resulting text, for all its impressiveness, is therefore far too long to be uploaded in a single posting (I know from my web stats that pieces of that length just don’t get read); so I have decided to release it in four digestible instalments

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‘BBC, Your Time Is Up…’ (1/6)

This is desperately needed

Musical Matters...

The other year, I wrote in one of these postings that…

… the long, sickening history of BBC bias and manipulation … will never be written, not least because the Corporation spews out more examples in a single month than could ever be collected, let alone analysed.

Like so many things I’ve said on here in the last few years, this was true at the time and has become even truer since. At the present moment, the BBC’s increasingly desperate attempts to serve concentrated private capital by protecting a monstrously dishonest Tory PM and a crooked, chaotic and exultantly sociopathic government have driven it to propaganda contortions of a brazenness and extremity that even I could not have predicted — including, most recently, the dissemination of actual calls for rioting and violence, and the mainstreaming of racist agitators of the farthest far-right.

Yet, at the same time as the ‘liberal…

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The Revenge of the Homeless


Summer 2009

It’s a shakedown. Vans and landcruisers disgorge uniforms who bully the destitute with all the moral certainty of unquestioned power. The street outreach people are there going through their own righteous motions while their client group are informed, in deeds if not words, that they are less than Human.

I walk through this with my rucksack and combat jacket radiating my own special loathing.

I’ve been on the streets.

And I now know no pig will ever protect me.

I enter a shop, scan the headlines on the paper rack then go.

They drive past and pull up in a side street. They get out and wait. They’re staring at me, one male, one female, both eager.

Would you step over here?”

What do you want?”

We’re going to search you.”

I want your names and uniform numbers. Write ’em down.”

We don’t…

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The Tyranny of Terrible Choices


You know, the dead still terrify me. They live within, reminders of how close I came. Kenny, the schizophrenic, lit a fire in the hearth of a derelict house. I like to think he never woke as it burned down round him. Greg, the heroin and alcohol addict, choked to death on his own vomit. Perhaps. We’ll never know. He was too badly decomposed when they found him. Maybe it was his hepatitis. Robert hanged himself. So did Tam. This surprised me. He seemed more robust, tough minded. He was the only one of them I didn’t like, too brutal.

Sammy’s the one I feel the most. There were two members of staff who looked out for him, gave me money to get him a bottle of Mundies wine for when his withdrawal kicked in. I would share it with him. It was nasty stuff, but it didn’t take much…

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Vilifying the Victims


It’s raining. He’ll be soaked. I passed him on the way down the Ormeau Road. He was vomiting up cheap red wine. He was on his side, curled up in a ball, barely conscious, barely feeling his pain. He’d surrounded himself with bottles as if they were a wall against a hostile world. In a sense they are; drink keeps the horrors at bay. I know he’s a chronic alcoholic. I know that abrupt cessation will kill him, but not before it floods him with all his terrors, makes every nightmare come true in his own virtual reality show.

It’s been weeks since I saw the posters. They weren’t just on telephone boxes. Big money was spent on billboards. Don’t give money to the homeless; it fuels the addictions that keep them on the street. There are some serious defects in this reasoning. When I tell you who the organisations…

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