Discuss is Social Life Moral or Manipulative

Related to our reading of Goffman’s Presentation of Self and his metaphor for social interaction as a theatrical performance, I ask that you think, respond, and discuss a question that has been posed by many Goffman scholars: Is social life moral or manipulative?

That is, are we always working to manipulate social life seeking only to further our interests and define situations in ways that will benefit us? Or, are we managing our impressions and working with others to smooth over the social order, making social life more seamless and less awkward for all?

In your responses, I ask that you please cite the parts of Goffman’s Presentation of Self that lead you to support your thoughts on this question.

Please post by 2 Nov, 9 PM.

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34 thoughts on “Discuss is Social Life Moral or Manipulative

  1. I think that much like the “nature vs. nurture” debate, social life can be both moral and manipulative.
    Goffman posits that we use our performance to create an illusion for the audience. He calls this the impression that we are “giving off” and claims that it is, “the more theatrical and contextual kind, the non-verbal, presumably unintentional kind” (4). Meaning that we, as humans, can give these impressions both consciously and unconsciously. Goffmans spends pages talking about how we use teams (78) to our benefit and how we protect our backstage (112) in order to protect against discrepancies in our performances. These are conscious efforts to create an illusion that will benefit us. These actions create the image of ourselves that other see, and we protect this image in order to maintain our status. We would not do that if there were no benefit to ourselves. For example, an employee might maintain a certain impression in order to get good tips and keep his job, both of which benefit him personally. In this way, we are always working to manipulate social life in order to further our own personal interests.
    However, there are also examples of when we manage our impressions in order to make social life less awkward. Goffman gives the example of when audience segregation fails and an outsider sees a performance that was not meant for him. He says that one way to deal with the problem is that “all those already in the audience may be suddenly accorded, and accept, temporary backstage status and collusively join the performer in abruptly shifting to an act that is a fitting one for the intruder to observe” (139). What Goffman means by this is that the audience member and the performer will accept that he was privy to the wrong performance but that they will both accept the sudden switch to the performance that he should be seeing. This involves the audience member managing his performance so as to not appear to judge the backstage performance and it is done to spare the awkwardness of the situation. This also allows the performer to continue his performance, which he is probably using for his personal gain. In this case, impression management means working together to smooth the social order.
    Through these two examples I argue that social life cannot be simply moral or manipulative but must have some aspects of both in order for impression management to succeed.

  2. I think that this is an interesting question to be asking individuals- because most individuals will invariably say that social life is moral in that we are trying to make situations less awkward and smooth for everyone. If you take a step back, however, I think that it is more complicated than that. Obviously no one wants social interactions to be awkward, but sometimes we are willing to fore go the awkwardness in order to benefit ourselves. My example of this struggle is the ability to earn extra-credit on Tuesday in class by dressing up.

    Goffman says: “When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess” (17). When we dress up for Halloween, we are in a sense, breaking character, because we are not requesting observers to take “us” seriously, but rather who we are portraying for our costumes. Obviously coming to class dressed up the day after Halloween is going to be an awkward experience. Even coming to class dressed up on Halloween is unnerving. In that sense, I have thought about what I could do in order to dress up, but not be so obvious that everyone outside of class would think differently of me- as to smooth out awkwardness not only for myself but for others who are wondering why someone would dress up in a Halloween costume the day after Halloween. My social interactions will go much smoother if I am not having to constantly explain to people why I am dressed up because people will be taking who I am seriously rather than my costume.

    However, I still want to earn extra credit because I want to better my grade in the class, so I might be willing to for go the awkwardness for myself and for others in order to get ahead in the class. And this also brings into question who I am. Since this extra-credit assignment asks that we step outside of our comfort zones, some people will question what my character is. Since Goffman says, ‘the individual puts on his show “for the benefit of other people”‘ (17) then people will think that since I am dressing up, I want them to think that I love extra-credit or that I care a lot about my grade. Goffman says that this may actually be true or I just want people to think that this is true, but either way, my performance is for the benefit of my classmates.

  3. This discussion question is very interesting, but I am going to talk about WHY we would feel the need to manipulate using or actions instead of just doing the nice, right thing.

    Goffman’s concept of teams working together and guarding secrets in an effort to have group cohesion when performing to an audience makes me think back to lectures we have had on capitalism and the power elite. As the power elite, the top percentage of powerful and rich people are in a team together, performing for the rest of society. Goffman says that “A team, then, has something of the character of a secret society. The audience may appreciate, of course, that all the members of the team are held together by a bond no member of the audience shares.” The American public understands that this power elite is controlling the nation, but because they are not part of that team, and because this specific team is so powerful, they cannot do anything about it.

    And because they hold so much of the power in this country, it is almost impossible to tell where their influence stops. That is why it is difficult to determine who it is exactly that is influencing our decisions to either be moral or manipulative. Every time I think of a situation in which it seems as though I am being moral and helpful, I can easily see an interpretation of the situation where I am being self interested and manipulative. An example would be giving blood to the red cross, something my father does every week.

    My father does not particularly enjoy giving blood, but he does it because he thinks it will look good ‘in the end’ somehow to have been donating all this time. He just assumes that the power elite is privy to his history of blood donations and therefore will treat him well if he is ever in trouble. This idea seems ridiculous, but actually makes sense if you really think about how much control the power elite has. In this situation in particular, it is easy to see the influence of the power elite on my father’s decision. This may help answer why many of our action are manipulative instead of moral.

  4. I do not believe it is possible to say that social life is solely moral or solely manipulative. I think that depending on the situation and circumstance people will work to benefit themselves or others or both simultaneously. Goffman addresses this on page 18 while speaking of cynical performers who “may delude his audience for what he considers to be their own good, or for the good of the community, etc.” He states that personal gain or “self interest” is an important component, but you can simultaneously benefit others while benefiting yourself.

    Goffman’s example involved inferiors whom “extend their most lavish reception” for visiting superiors” (19). At first you would assume they are doing so to benefit themselves by appearing to be lavish and advanced but he says the inferior “may be tactfully attempting to put the superior at ease by simulating the kind of world the superior is thought to take for granted” (19). Another real example would be if you are with a group of people and are in an awkward situation, for example because someone said something inappropriate. Most would attempt to ease away the awkwardness with a joke or change of subject. This does benefit the self in that it makes you more comfortable but it also benefits all those around you who you are helping to feel less awkward for both your sake and theirs.

    It is obvious that people many times do things for their own benefit, such as the examples above when a waitress is extremely kind, thus managing their emotions, so they get a tip. But we can also manage our emotions for the benefit of others, especially with friends or family who we might hide our true emotions from in order to make them more comfortable, or to prevent them from feeling sad or embarrassed. Essentially, I believe that both scenarios are part of social life, but I do believe that furthering ones own interests or manipulation is the priority for most people.

  5. I would have to agree with the previous post that many of these situations have to be looked at with a case by case basis. I believe social interactions can be used to a person’s advantages and to reduce social awkwardness. I believe these two purposes also lie along the same continuum and are just certain degrees of manipulation and management. No one wants to find themselves in an awkward position, and if this individual is witty enough he or she will guide social interactions in a way that will avoid any awkwardness privi to the situation while simultaneously benefiting the individual. Therefore, these actions benefit both interacting parties. Situations can be both manipulated and managed by this individual.

    One specific example Goffman provides is a person laughing at a joke they know is not funny. Say there is a girl telling a guy a joke and the guy laughs at the joke despite it not being funny at all. This action benefits everyone involved by making the failed joker feel comfortable and limiting the feelings of the unsatisfied audience to themselves. It also eliminates any awkward silence or pause. The unimpressed listener both manipulated the situation by laughing and making her feel funny and satisfied, and managed the situation as to make sure the girl feels comfortable too. This will further build a false relationship between the two, which can prove to be very beneficially for the male down the road. The male is also misrepresenting himself by creating the allusion that he is someone who laughs at jokes, no matter how awful.

    In conclusion, I believe that an intelligent person would both manage social iterations to make them seamless while manipulating them for his of her own personal gain.

  6. I agree with the previous posts that nobody wants to come across as awkward in social situations. I know that I sometimes make personal sacrifices (laughing at a joke that isn’t funny, tagging along to go places when I really don’t want to, agreeing to go on dates with someone you don’t like, etc.) to maintain a smooth, non-awkward relationship with others. By making these sacrifices, though, I feel as though I am misrepresenting who I truly am. In instances like this social life can be moral.

    Goffman says that “a performer often engenders in his audience the belief that he is related to them in a more ideal way than is always the case” (48). To illustrate this point, I will use the concept of a job interview. In a job interview, one displays themselves in a certain manner–one which exemplifies that they are fit for the job. As an applicant for a job–the interviewee–acts in that specific role. In this role of an interviewee, the person misrepresents his/herself by saying things that are false, or dressing better than they usually would, just in order to get the job.

    Another example of social life being manipulative is cheating on a test and pretending like you didn’t. Goffman states that “there are many performances which could not have been given had not tasks been done which were physically unclean, semi-illegal, cruel, and degrading in other ways; but these disturbing facts are seldom expressed during a performance” (44). In this example, a person could say to their friends/teacher/family “Look! I got such a good grade on the test. I studied for hours and am so smart!” In all reality, however, this person cheated on the test and did not study for hours. The person wants to create an image of his/herself to others, who, in turn will think that they are smart and will want to be friends with them. They do not admit that they cheated, for this would damage their relationships with others. They lie for their own personal benefit.

    As a conclusion, social life can be both moral and manipulative. People want to not have awkward situations or awkward friendships, so they must make sacrifices to maintain these. At the same time, a person displays the best (and sometimes not completely true) version of themselves to further their own interests.

  7. I feel like this is a very hard topic of discussion. I do agree that somethings should be recognized on a case by case basis. One such action would be men being chivalrous to women. I would like to think that people are holding the door for women because they think it’s nice to hold the door for women. On the flip side i believe that men might want to do this in order to show the subordination of women because in the back of their heads some men believe that women can’t do these tasks for themselves. For me this is why I think Goffman’s explanation of self interest is crucial. Self interest makes things confusing because something that is the right thing to do is manipulative if you doing it because you are forced to.
    For this reason I find it hard to believe that we are not choosing one distinct way of acting, moral or manipulative, in a given situation. i think that what might change is the lens used that initiated that action.

  8. I agree with many of the posts above me but I must take the argument that there is no such thing as true altruism and therefore everything is a manipulation. Others have brought up the example of laughing at an unfunny joke, or a man holding a door for a woman, all of which are manipulations so that the person you are interacting with thinks a certain way about you. You don’t want a person thinking you are an awkward person or a woman thinking that you are not a “gentleman” so you do these things to be thought of in a certain way.
    Goffman discusses managing emotions. In this case there are obvious times when someone is manipulative to benefit themselves tangibly (a waitress who wants a better tip) but then there are other situations which are a bit more complex. For example, if you were to cry with a friend when she was going through a tough time even though you do not feel sadness. One may say that this is to benefit your friend who will feel more comfortable but ultimately it is you that is making the decision to cry and therefore it benefits you.
    We certainly navigate the world to enter in situations that we are comfortable in and do not steer towards awkward situations. This alone can prove that we are not guided by morals but by situations that are seamless for us. Whatever happens in these situations is interesting and important but ultimately the fact that we navigate our world to enter in situations we are comfortable in proves that are not morally led.

  9. I also agree that social life can be both moral and manipulative but that it is in an individual’s best interest to have a smooth social order that serves his/her interests. As Goffman argues, social life is a theatrical performance or a series of performances. For the most part I think we can agree that we make decisions based on our interests and in ways that will benefit us. Goffman believes that “when an individual appears in the presence of others, there will usually be some reason for him to mobilize his activity so that it will convey an impression to others, which it is in his interests to convey” (4). Therefore, it is in our best interest to present the best first impression we can, depending on the context. I will use my mom as an example. My mom is a second grade teacher at a public school. Every year when she meets her new class for the first time, her first impression (the way she carries herself in the classroom and how she interacts with different students) plays a significant role in how the rest of the year will play out. If the majority of her children are troublemakers she will change her behavior from a sweet caring mother figure to a strict and serious educator because it is in her best interest to gain the children’s respect. Once she gains their respect she can modify her behavior so they can trust her and become comfortable around her.

    Goffman also says, “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 behavior as a whole” (35). In other words we are managing our impressions and working with others to smooth over social order because we value societal norms and do not deviate from these values because it might cause tension. Furthermore if you deviate from society’s norms you might come across as awkward in a social situation and as individuals who conform easily we want to avoid this at all costs. Lets use an American wedding as an example. It is custom for women to wear dresses but everyone knows you shouldn’t wear white. If an individual were to show up in a white dress, it would create an awkward situation because your not supposed to look like the bride on her special day. Therefore to avoid this moral dilemma, a white dress would simply not be in a guests’ performance.

    In conclusion, social life can be both moral and manipulative. People aim to have a smooth social order by going out of their way to avoid awkward situations they might encounter in daily interactions. But these interactions may never be real because people are inclined to convey an impression that will benefit them in that particular situation.

  10. As everyone else has argued, I agree that social interactions and social life are both moral and manipulative. In order to fit seamlessly into society, the individual must strive to have smooth, not awkward, social interactions with others, while making sure to present the “better” side of her/himself. An example of the mix of the two comes in customer service jobs, such as being a barista. In working as a barista, I have learned that it is extremely important to be extremely chipper and smiley even though I am working at 7:00 am and do not really want to be there. Like Goffman’s front stage, being behind the counter inspires me to act in my most positive self in order to make the interactions with the customers as smooth as possible. Goffman postulates, “the performance of an individual in a front region may be seen as an effort to give the appearance that his activity in the region maintains and embodies certain standards” (107). Therefore, in relation to the barista example, I would work towards having an extremely positive attitude and a lot of energy in the morning so that I could convince my customers that they want to continue coming to my coffee shop. In this case, my positivity would be driven by the moral force of wanting to make my customers happy, yet also driven by the manipulative force of wanting them to continue spending money at my cafe and spreading word that I am a good barista.
    That being said, certain kinds of interactions are almost entirely guaranteed be either moral or manipulative. For example, familial and peer interactions often fall under the category of moral in that they seem to have little ulterior motives for self advancement. While business interactions are almost entirely manipulative in their Capitalist nature. In familial and peer interactions the performative aspect of the front stage versus back stage is lowered due to the feelings of comfort in including said close individuals into the back stage. Therefore, audience segregation is not needed at such an extreme level because the actor is more comfortable showing his/her true self, as opposed to playing an appropriate role (139). This suggests that the social interactions are more moral because they emphasize the true feelings of the individual in creating/sustaining positive relationships with the people that mean the most to him/her. Contrastingly, business relations are often based on goals and initiatives sought by an individual to make personal gains. As is emphasized in Capitalism, business transactions are based on goals that aim to make the most out of money, therefore supporting the manipulative notion of social interactions in that a businessperson will use whatever tactics necessary, including exploitation, to ensure that they get the best deal for their product. Marx discussed this obsession with manipulation in Capitalism through his discussion of economy as the base to society. Altogether, I believe that some social interactions are morally based while others are manipulative, and some are both.

    • While I agree that social life consists of both moral and manipulative performances, I would like to argue that they are more often separate than most of you claim. Xmarxthespot, I completely agree that individuals (performers) put on performances in the moral sense when around their peers and family. There is simply no need to manipulate the situation for personal gain when you are around people you are either related to or care about. I think the point about frontstage and backstage as it pertains to family and peer interactions is very important to this discussion. Goffman also discusses concept in the section about Regions and Region Behavior. He says, “The backstage behavior consists of reciprocal first-naming, co-operative decision-making, profanity, open sexual remarks…’sloppy’ sitting and standing posture, use of dialect or sub-standard speech”(128). To illustrate this, I will use my summer job at a country club pool preparing and serving food and drinks and dealing with members at the window. When I was dealing with a member either at the window or out around the pool, I definitely manipulated my impression as everyone in the service industry does. However, the area behind the window, which was mostly visible to the members, also serves as the backstage. During slow times we either sat on buckets or invented games to pass the time. Essentially, we did all those things that Goffman describes in the backstage. What is interesting about this is that an unexpected member at the window could clearly see these behaviors and report them to the General Manager. It worked to our advantage that the fans and other machines were loud enough to mask our complaints about members even if they were at the window. This example deals with frontstage/backstage behavior as well as behavior between coworkers. At this job, everyone I worked with directly was equal in both position and age. Thus, we did not have to maintain the manipulated business relationships some of you have mentioned. The concept of equality was never as apparent in our backstage setting as when the General Manager assigned a 50-something year old woman to work with us. We were all between 18 and 20 years old, so the difference was staggering. In essence, we had to start manipulating our backstage performance as the backstage became blurred with the frontstage.

      I hope you all see from this example how social life consists of moral and manipulated performances, but they are often separate.

  11. With respect to the question, I am going against the grain with the majority of the comments to state that social life is moral. I first want to say I think it is important as sociologists to answer objectively as hard as it may sound. Durkheim wanted to make sociology more objective and it is difficult to achieve this when people cannot take a side. Yes, the question appears difficult, but when I relate to Goffman’s Presentation of Self In Everday Life, his dramaturgical theory applies more to the idea of creating a “seamless” and “less awkward” society.

    Chapter One and Two prove to be supporting arguments towards social life as moral since our performances our based on our attempt to put on a show “for the benefit of other people.” (Goffman 17) People are far more concerned with their “me” which contributes to how one aspires to be included in a collective society. To build off this quote that promotes community solidarity, Goffman also discusses how teams are used for the benefit of a group rather than personal interest as he states,
    “we often find that the personal front of the performer is employed not so
    much because it allows him to present himself as he would like to appear but
    because it allows him to present himself as he would like to appear but
    because his appearance and manner can do something for a scene of a wider
    scope.” (Goffman 77)
    Individuals in a society do have self interests but not at the risk of losing fluidity and uniformity in society. As state above by Goffman, a performer is employed based on the sense of belonging to greater entity “of a wider scope” rather than self interests.

  12. I believe typically what occurs between two parties (or teams) is a sort of buffer zone where all feelings are put aside and two groups of people not working together for the same common cause or goal can do business with one another in a civil manner. On page 175 (Ch. 5) Goffman states that “when two teams meet on the field of interaction it seems that they generally do not meet for peace or for war. They meet under a temporary truce, a working consensus, in order to get business done.” Therefore I would argue that people will try their hardest to make social life less awkward for all. It is a well known fact that people talk about others when they are not present, but it is not something that either party brings up in conversation when talking to each other. This is not to say that people do not manipulate others for their own gain, because people definitely do that ALL THE TIME, but I’d argue that this usually happens when one person is in a higher position of power than the other; or one person has something to gain by being in acquaintance with the other. USUALLY, when two people on level ground converse with each other, both strive towards finding a common ground that can make the interaction go smoothly.

  13. Well, this is certainly a complex question, and I believe an even more complicated answer. The previous posts here bring up many interesting ideas and viewpoints on the matter, but I’m going to stick with my gut feeling and say that social life is much more manipulative than it is moral based.

    The leading questions for this topic are confusing however, because although I do think we typically work together with other people to create less awkward social situations, I believe the end means typically have a manipulative goal, which is to shape interactions for our own self-interests. For example, no matter whether we are interacting with somebody we like or dislike, our social actions will really dictate what we want from future situations. Social norms will surely influence us in some ways here, but if you are courteous, yet short and cold to somebody, it will indicate that you are not interested in interacting with them, whereas if you are chatty and smiling, the other person will receive the impression that you like interacting with them and want to do it again. In short, I believe the truer, manipulative side of our social life will almost always prevail in social interactions.

    Goffman seems to agree with many of the posts on here, that our performances do not ultimately need to be strictly moral or strictly manipulative: “A cynical individual may delude his audience for what he considers to be their own good, or for the good of the community, etc” (18). He makes the suggestion that our motives could change based on case-by-case scenarios, and I would tend to agree. I know I have certainly seen individuals who act so selflessly all the time that it becomes painful to watch eventually. But I think it is only a matter of time before the manipulative side of our social interactions comes forth, even for people like this.

    Interesting enough, one of the only times I have seen Goffman use the actual word “moral” is when describing a manipulative type of interaction. He says, “…when an individual…makes an implicit or explicit claim to be a person of a particular kind, he automatically exerts a moral demand upon the others…” (13). This is a manipulative characteristic in that you are acting a certain way to illicit specific responses from other people. Goffman and other people here bring up valid points, but I will continue to stand by my reasoning that the majority of the time, the manipulative self is the dominating motive in social life.

  14. Similar to the last discussion topic of Mead’s “I” and “Me”, I believe that Goffman’s idea of social interactions is a combination of both manipulative and moral. Goffman goes into great detail about the different regions that exist in our interactions and how behavior changes between regions. The idea of life being manipulative is clearly depicted in a few examples of how somebody’s actions will vary from one region to the next such as from front stage to back stage. An example from the book that depicts this happening is at the hotel restaurant. On page 118, Goffman talks about the door that separates the kitchen from the dinning room. The managers of the restaurant want to keep the door closed so people will not hear what the staff is saying and to hide any unsanitary actions being done. By doing this the managers hope to keep a good image in the front-stage so the restaurant continues to get the customer’s service, despite any actual bad behavior that may happening in the backstage.

    I also believe that social life can be moral. Our interactions with others can benefit not only ourselves but the people we interact with. An example from Goffman that depicts a moral performance is on page 79. Goffman discusses how teams work and that they perform differently depending if they have an audience or not. One of the examples is how workers in an office may call their co-workers by their first name when there are not strangers present and by Miss or Mr when strangers are present. The performers are not gaining anything from either of the scenarios and only change their performance to smooth social order and make the interaction less awkward for everybody.

    Social interactions are very interesting and can be described in many different ways depending on the perspective. People may see something as manipulative that could seem moral to another person. In my opinion, manipulative and moral interactions happen all the time and can occur in the same performance. Our interactions with the people around us is always continuous and can be affected by many different aspects and interpreted in many different ways.

  15. I also believe that social life is both moral and manipulative; however, manipulation is seemingly prioritized over morality. In Goffman’s chapter regarding communication out of character, you can especially see how furthering one’s own interests takes precedence over morality. In his discussion of team collusion, which he defines as “any collusive communication, which is carefully conveyed in such a way as to cause no threat to the illusion that is being fostered for the audience” (177), he gives the example of salespersons and their use of “harmless-sounding phrases which the customer thinks he understands” that are “more useful to salespersons” (179). Although it can be argued that salespersons use these “codenames” to make situations less “awkward,” it seems that their use is more manipulative, as they are willing to lie about their products and/or their performance to customers so they can make a sale.

    Goffman also discusses the “treatment of the absent,” which “serves to maintain the morale of the team” by assuring the continuance of “peaceful and orderly interaction” (175). He is suggesting that backstage derogation is moral in the sense that it maintains “more seamless” and “less awkward” interactions; however, I am wondering how this backstage derogation of the audience is more moral than manipulative? The performer is manipulating the audience into thinking they are viewing the performer’s “real” impressions, even though they may be simultaneously derogating the audience backstage. If the performer did act in accordance with their “genuine” beliefs about the audience, interaction would not be smooth and orderly, but the performer would telling the truth—is it moral to lie to make situations less awkward? In other words, is it morally acceptable to lie to prevent potentially hurting one’s feelings?

  16. Many people have argued that it is both moral and manipulative, and I agree with that because different situations call for different reactions. Although, I would argue that social life is more often times manipulative. I think people struggle with this concept because it implies that we are selfish beings, only looking to benefit ourselves and look good in front of others. To be strictly moral in social life would require a certain selflessness that would be very difficult to obtain. The effect that society has on an individual is far greater than we like to admit, and our concern with how others view us has a huge impact on our actions. People of course want to avoid awkwardness and smooth over the social order, but I feel that often times we seek to obtain those goals in manipulative ways.

    By manipulation, I do not mean that human beings are selfish and cruel. I more am referring to the every day lies, the actions we take in order to look good, and the way we interact with others that may not be entirely genuine in order to get ahead and benefit our personal situations. We are all seeking to be positively perceived, and we are of course looking to get ahead in life. As Goffman states on page 3, “He may wish them to think highly of him, or to think that he thinks highly of them, or to perceive how in fact he feels toward them, or to obtain no clear cut impression; he may wish to ensure sufficient harmony so that the interaction can be sustained, or to defraud, get rid of, confuse, mislead, antagonize, or insult them.” This demonstrates the many ways in which we are concerned with how our interactions with others will affect us. Even if we are well intentioned, and we are primarily seeking to avoid awkwardness and make social life seamless, there are often still manipulative actions involved.

    Goffman goes on to say, “…it will be in his interests to control the conduct of others, especially their responsive treatment of him. This control is achieved largely by influencing the definition of the situation which the others come to formulate, and he can influence this definition by expressing himself in such a way as to give them the kind of impression that will lead them to act voluntarily in accordance with his own plan” (p. 3-4). This section describes some of the manipulative control that we often subconsciously seek out. Goffman’s metaphor for social interactions as a theatrical performance is very accurate, because so many of our interactions are controlled with the intention of getting a particular response. This was a very interesting question, and definitely does not have one specific answer, but I think everyone contributed some very useful ideas.

  17. Social life is manipulative. I make this argument for the fact that in studying sociology, it is important to remember that ultimately it is the study of people’s interactions. Of course within these interactions individuals actions, morals, decisions, etc. come into play, but social life in itself is more about impression management and ensuring a smoothness of social order.
    A point of Goffman’s I consider is his notion of teams and how individuals collaborate in a group to maintain a certain performance for an audience (79). Clearly the reason a performance needs to be maintained is for the sake of audience, as well as to maintain the impression of the actors. In a team people are working together to ensure ease.
    A designated “front” must be established (22) for the sake and ease of both parties. If the front is not maintained, a result could be discomfort of the audience, or embarrassment of the actors.
    Also consider Goffman’s notions of regions. The reason that a backstage—a place where no audience member intrudes (113)—is necessary is to prevent any awkward confrontations between performers and audience members. That is why audience segregation becomes necessary (137), as well as an adjustment of performance should an audience witness a show that was not meant for them (137).
    In all of Goffman’s main attributes of dramaturgy there is the constant reminder that social interactions are shows that must be maintained and it is the maintenance of these shows that make social life seamless and less awkward. If no boundaries of audience and performers were set, and no front and back stages were established, social interactions would become very chaotic. Without such filtering, individuals would easily be able to get hurt or offended, and smooth interactions of any level would be extremely difficult.

  18. For the most part, I would argue that social life is manipulative.
    While individual people can be moral, social life consists of interactions with other people and performances, and performances are generally manipulative. Goffman talks about two extreme types of performance, one of which is clearly manipulative. The cynical performer is one who “has no belief in his own act” and puts on a performance he knows is false in order to achieve something, whether it be for personal gain or for the good of the community. Clearly, the goal of the cynical performer is to manipulate, and Goffman even goes so far as to say that he or she may experience “a gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he (or she) can toy at will with something his audience must take seriously. The other extreme type of performance is when an actor is completely taken in by his own performance. On the surface, this kind of performance seems moral and not manipulative, but even when people believe they are expressing their true self, they are still manipulating other people into accepting and recognizing that self as legitimate. A person might have an incredibly sophisticated sense of the moral standards which are crucial to any society, but as performers they are “concerned not with the moral issue of realizing these standards but with the amoral issue of engineering a convincing impression that these standards are being realized.” In other words, they use performances to manipulate audiences into believing what they believe is true about themselves or about a situation or issue. Whether or not the performer is manipulating someone into thinking something they believe is true or whether they are manipulating them into believing something they know is false does not make the performance any less manipulative.
    Take Goffman’s example of the Shetland community, where the hotel owners had to put on a cynical performance to accommodate their middle class guests. As time went by, the performance became less cynical as the owners became taken into the act and came to think of themselves as middle-class. I would argue that while the performance may have been less cynical, it was still manipulative. They simply manipulated themselves in addition to their audience. This kind of performance is not moral, and in fact could result in the negative effect of causing the performers to forget their own background.

    I would say that the only time we are truly moral is when we are alone and not engaged in performance or social activity. Life is both moral and manipulative, but social life is always more or less manipulative.

  19. I believe, like many other posts before me, that social life is actually manipulative. For the most part, we all manipulate our appearances, emotions and thoughts to be socially accepted by others, or to somehow ingratiate ourselves into a group or a larger social scene. Ultimately this stems from a very selfish desire to be viewed as something positive in society, or to obtain some form of material gain that requires social manipulation.

    More often than not, we don’t correct other people’s social mistakes. We feel uncomfortable and awkward. We stay silent, and we just wait for the “moment” to pass and move on to the next topic. If we were truly socially moral people we’d somehow smooth the moment over, and later probably try and educate that person on more acceptable social behaviors. As long as “we” are okay and aren’t perceived as “uncomfortable,” we will have little desire to maintain or correct any larger social moral order that governs us.

    Goffman argues that people who manipulate their outward appearances and personality, and can do it convincingly, can “win” people’s impression over. The individual, can gain many benefits from winning an impression, and can even celebrate it inside (or backstage) that they “toy” with another person’s perception. Especially in the case of restaurant waiters and waitresses, as long as they maintain a happy, cheerful demeanor, they can receive a larger tip.

  20. Although we would all like to argue that social life is moral, I feel as if it is more manipulative than anything. We put more effort in making sure we are able to put out our best selves in order to receive the best outcomes from the rest of the world. During our daily interactions with others, we are working to achieve something. We want to put forward the best act in order to engage our audiences and prove that we have the potential to be who they think we already are, or who they want us to be.

    On page 35, Goffman says “Thus, 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 behavior as a whole”. When we, as Goffman terms “present our selves to others”, we are simultaneously seeking their approval which then causes us to somewhat put our true selves aside, and act out what we know the rest of society wants to hear. Although we may not present our selves in a full lie, we do find ways to bend the truth or leave out certain pieces of a story in order to guarantee that our audience is receiving what they want from our story, and that we are presenting ourselves in a light that makes us look good.

    • I agree that we are manipulative because everything we do is for the betterment of ourselves. Even actions that are supposed to be for the good of others like volunteering or doing community service. These actions have been defined by society as “whole hearted,” and because of this individuals are able to put a performance and help others but to please him/herself. Society has labeled good and bad actions and we are able to put a performance in a way to improve our image to others.

      However, I don’t agree with his ideal type of a cynical performer who has no belief in his act. Because a person can volunteer and be happy helping others. But the positive notions associated with volunteering highly contribute to that good feeling. “To the degree that a performance highlights the common official values of the society in which it occurs, we may look upon it as an expressive rejuvenation and reaffirmation of the moral values of the community (35).”

      These moral values are then performed by individuals to manipulate the image they present to society.

  21. As others above have agreed, social life is both moral and manipulative. We strategically plan our performances and put on a show for others, often controlling information, ourselves, and the audience with the front that we put forward. However, we also attempt to make the flow of social life smooth and easy for everyone, working to achieve common goals with audiences that we interact with and perform to. Performing is not solely a manipulative or a moral thing; it can be used for both means.

    As Goffman asserts in “The Presentation of Self”, there are many manipulative agents underneath our performances. Goffman states that “individuals often foster the impression that the routine they are presently performing is their only routine or at least their most essential one.” Individuals want others to think they are genuine and true, although they may perform very differently in their various front and back stage settings. For example, when we are in a job interview, we desperately want the employer to believe that the well-dressed, eloquent, composed, friendly individual before them is our true character, and we do not possess party animal or computer hacker in our repertoire. In this way, we are manipulating the information provided and therefore the situation to our benefit. Another example of manipulation is Goffman’s example of the baseball umpire who must make split-second decisions. In order to convince the audience of his correct judgement on close plays, he must act quickly and confidently. Therefore, often the umpire’s conscious performance of decisiveness can become more important than the call itself. This shows how manipulation can reign over morality in social actions/interactions.

    However, there are arguments to be made for social life being led morally. Goffman’s “slip-ups” are examples of this: we feel a strong need to go with the flow and prevent awkwardness for others and ourselves. Therefore slip-ups occur when the flow of social life is interrupted, and we feel compelled to bring it back to normality/seamlessness by making excuses, covering up, etc. These decisions are not manipulative, they are made ino order to control and smooth over rough patches of social life.

    Goffman also refers to a “mask,” representing the role that an individual takes on, and “the conception we have formed of ourselves.” While this may seem devious and manipulative, Goffman shows that there is a more honest, moral reason behind the mask: it is “our truer self, the self we would like to be.” Our conception of a role we are playing becomes second nature, as we begin to believe that we and our mask are one and the same. Therefore, instead of purposefully manipulating situations and people to our own ends, we unconsciously attempt to control them.

    These examples prove that social interactions are not solely manipulative or moral; whether they are one or the other depends on the situation and the people involved.

  22. I also agree with a majority of my classmates, social life is definitely both moral and manipulative. But I agree, also along with many of my classmates, that the manipulative part of social life is definitely more prominent. I think that we strategically plan out our social interactions to achieve certain goals in social life. I think that this is especially true when we are acting in group situations.

    I think that manipulation can be seen in Goffman’s analysis of team communication in Chapter 5 of “The Presentation of Self.” His term “Staging Talk” resonated with me, as I know I have used this form of group communication and presentation in my day to day life. Goffman claims that In absence of the audience’s presence, teammates often discuss problems of staging, such as the condition of sign-equipment, past and future performance disruptions, and “post-mortem” (or the reception given one’s last performance) is considered.

    This concept of “Staging Talk” reminded me of working in groups for group presentations in class. While we all like our professors to think that we are as naturally scholastic and put together as we seem when we present, we all know that we spend time outside of class planning what we are going to say, planning what order we are going to talk in, and making sure that we are all acting up to our full potential. And afterwards, if someone did a great job or did terribly, the group may talk about it after.

    We can also see this kind of manipulative behavior when we hang out with friends, family, or are at job interviews, etc. I think that sometimes we do perform the way we do for moral reasons, but a lot of the time we are manipulating our behavior for an ultimate goal.

  23. I too believe that social life can be moral and manipulative. Depending on the situation, people can choose to act upon their inner desires even if these impinge on society or they can take a moral approach and smooth over social order. However I do not think that the balance between them is equal, if I had to lean for one I would have to say that social life is more manipulative than moral. For the most part people, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, manipulate situations throughout their everyday social interactions in ways that benefit them. For example, a person who is always extremely friendly and social may put up a front when he or she is having a bad day and act as if nothing were wrong. By doing so, this person is manipulating their behavior do fulfill an idealized expectation of his or her usual performance in front of his or her peers (the audience). Goffman defines an idealized performance as “the tendency for performers to offer their observers and impression that is idealized in several different ways” (35). In the end, a person may feel the desire to manipulate situations because he or she do not want to be perceived as a bad person or someone who might simply not fit in within a particular social group this person highly values people’s perception of him or her. Another example that comes to mind when discussing whether social life is manipulative is the interaction between teachers and students in a classroom setting. Students may or may not be paying attention to what the teacher is trying to convey in his or her lecture but they pretend to be engaged in the situation. In this scenario, the students manipulate the situation not because doing otherwise would hurt the teacher’s feelings but because they are concerned about the teacher’s perception of their performances and ultimately their grades. This supports the idea that people take what may appear to be a moral approach in a situation only to shift gears and turn it into a manipulative approach that ends up benefiting them the most.

    Goffman gives the example of a particular situation in which an individual “pays an unexpected visit to his friend and finds them giving a party, he is usually welcomed loudly and coaxed into staying” (140). This circumstance exemplifies people’s way of coping with unexpected situations by means of altering their performances in ways that make situations less awkward for all. However, in this case the host are not only concerned that their friend (the intruder) may feel uncomfortable but also that they may be negatively perceived by him. Goffman suggest this by saying, “If the welcome were not enthusiastically extended, his discovery that he has been excluded might discredit the front of friendliness and affection that obtains between the intruder and his hosts on other occasions (140). In conclusion, I believe that although a combination of moral and manipulative performances in social life does it exist; the latter prevails because individuals unconsciously value the things that benefit them or place them on higher ground in relation to others even if they do things with the best intentions.

  24. I believe the social life is more manipulative that incorporates some moral. Our morals often derive from our manipulations of out social lives. Many of our morals conform to those of the society that we live in, Goffman says that our performances are to make our life for smoothly and to help us fit into our societal roles. That’s how manipulation of how society sees us leads to use needing to incorporate other people’s morals into our so that we can fit into society.

    Just as for those people who donate blood because all there friends around them are doing it and they do not want to be ostracized by there peers. So there morals for helping people comes from them manipulating the view of people around them or how a person may attend church if they live in a small conservative town. Or manipulation of how people around us see us cause us to create our social morals.

  25. Though this seems clearly redundant, I also believe that whether or not we manipulate social interaction or go about it sincerely is dependent on the situation. I think the most important part is the fact that social life is actually able to be used for manipulation. I don’t think the option should be one or another, but rather that we are capable of using other people for our benefit. I do think that there are genuine relationships that tend to occur by accident, since then there will be no pretense as to what the relationship should be, but I think in terms of Goffman, the argument would be stronger to say that we present ourselves in a certain way in relationships so that people will think of us in a certain way, and therefore we have manipulated part of the relationship.

    Goffman’s discussion of teams exemplifies this type of behavior because he discusses that though people may belong to a team, they choose the members that they think are most suitable to join them. Since the team is meant to perform, they would need a member or members that could successfully convey what they are trying to portray, so that must pick wisely. There is also usually a director of the team who is ‘given the right to direct and control the progress of dramatic action’ and is seen as responsible for the performance in the end (97 & 99). This shows how even groups who may have been brought together naturally develop a kind of leader that controls the way that the group acts for the interpretation of others.

    Also the fact that teams must choose their members based on what they can bring to the group and whether they can properly assist with what the team is trying to accomplish shows that we will naturally seek people out that are not only similar in some of the same aspects as we are, but also will help us with what we want.

  26. I agree with those who say that social life is both moral and manipulative. I feel though that the extent to which it is moral and manipulative depends on the individual and his or her circumstances. It depends on who we are, which people we surround ourselves with, and what we have to lose or gain based on our situations. Overall, I believe that our first iniative is to be moral. We want to go about things the correct and proper way in order to be honest with both ourselves and others. By being moral, we are socially performing in a way that will allows to interacte with others more fluidly. However, at most times, I believe that the manipulative aspect overshadows the moral. This is because in the end, we want to do what is best for ourselves. This means portraying ourselves in the best light possible as well as placing ourselves in the greaest positions to succeed. This idea is supported by Goffman in Chapter 5 in which he discuses staging cues and team collusion. Throughout the chapter, he discusses how performances such as “secret signals”(177) and “high signs”(181) are ways for people to communicate in which they manipulate the situation. They both serve as guides and directors as to how to behave. In this sense, it is a way to communicate warnings based off of others’ reactions. They prove to be manilpulative because shape situations with out everyone knowing.

  27. I argue that social life is more manipulative than it is moral. In the book “The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life”, the author and sociology theorist Erving Goffman writes a whole chapter called “Communication Out of Character”, which seeks to explain the different strategies people use to socially define a situation in order to benefit themselves and their fellow team members.

    A form of communication out of character that shows the inner workings of manipulative social interaction is “treatment of the absent”, which entails meeting with members of your team secretly from the audience and talking about the audience in a derogatory way “that is inconsistent with the face-to-face treatment that is given to the audience (Goffman 170). The team members not only deceive their audience with a double act, but they insult and subordinate the audience in their own self-interest. For example, customer service employees will act cheerful and friendly towards customers, but behind closed doors the employee will have talked with a fellow employee and “ridiculed, gossiped about, caricatured, cursed, and criticized” the customers, and then proceeded to strategize how to make a sale off the customers (Goffman 170). The performers successfully act two performances in the pursuit of their selfish desires, manipulating the audience into thinking they have their best interests at heart.

    Although treatment of the absent can result in positive talk behind closed doors about the audience, gossip and insult still reign when this form of communication is enacted by a team: “secret derogation seems to be much more common than secret praise because such derogation serves to maintain the solidarity of the team” (Goffman 171). This type of deceit leads me to believe that teams perform for the sake of their own profit, even if it means disadvantaging the audience with consequences such as the spread of rumors, or putting the audience’s feelings at risk if the secret performance were to be revealed.

  28. I believe that social life is primarily manipulative, as it is human nature to act in one’s own interest. After all, we are all the center of our own worlds. We want our peers to have a specific view of us. Most often, this is that we are the best that we can be. Many people wish for others to view them as socially adept. Our actions reflect this. Thus, even when we behave in a moral manner (perhaps by providing the appropriate reaction to a given situation) that makes it look like we are working to make sure an interaction is seamless for other people, we are really doing so to make sure we look good. This is exemplified by Goffman’s belief that, “when an individual appears in the presence of others, there will usually be some reason for him to mobilize his activity so that it will convey an impression to others” (4). In other words, even our most moral actions are manipulative. To further demonstrate this, I will use the example Goffman uses in Chapter 4. A wife who laughs at a joke (which may not be funny) her husband has told multiple times, but is pretending to tell for the first time to a new audience is acting as a protector. A protector provides the reaction a performer is looking for, therefore giving the rest of the audience a model reaction. The protector looks to be acting morally in this case. She eases the moment of tension before the audience reacts to a performance, making the interaction easier for both the performer and the other audience members. However, is it not possible that the wife is also acting selfishly in this case? In some cases, the audience may feel thankful that the wife has provided a model reaction, and will judge her actions as moral. This judgment also makes them think more highly of her. It is possible that this was her goal all along. Furthermore, by laughing at the joke, the wife makes it seem as if she has a husband with a good sense of humor. This makes him more desirable, making her look better for being married to someone desirable. Therefore, even actions that appear to be moral really serve our best interest.

  29. I’d like to believe that social life is more moral than manipulative just as I would like to believe that people are more good than bad. Yes, it can be argued that that is an optimist’s ideal and that it is not realistic to assume, but I would call those people cynics. Thus, while it could clearly be argued either way (hence the point of a discussion), I truly believe that social is more moral than manipulative.

    Goffman’s discussion, in chapter one about idealization, helps to support this idea. He describes how “a performance is ‘socialized,’ molded, and modified to fit into the understanding and expectations of the society in which it is presented” (Goffman, 35). Here, the performers are guiding their actions in order to comply with their society, despite personal motives. Additionally, the idea of mystification lends itself to the idea that society is more moral than manipulative in that it suggests that distance and segregation of audience and performer allow for both to uphold their respective ideal impressions, consequently benefitting society as a whole(Goffman, 67).

    Moving forward, Goffman’s notion of teams insists that society is more moral in that performers must cast aside personal motives in order to uphold the desired impression of the team. For example, Goffman states, “it seems to be generally felt that public disagreement among the members of a team not only incapacitates them for united action but also embarrasses the reality sponsored by the team” (Goffman, 86), thus it is expected that each member do what they can to support that noting. His “principle of unanimity” (86), and reasoning about figureheads (102) also suggest that individuals act in a way that betters society as a whole. I believe this is where deviance comes in to vilify those who act in a way that does not help the greater community. As a society, we have established a way to deal with these individual who do not work toward our common good by setting laws and imprisoning people.

  30. Like what some people have stated earlier, I think social life can be either moral or manipulative depending on context, but lately I think that its manipulative side is often more apparent. Yes, it is true that no man is an island and that we all need others to survive. However, why are there still so many crimes and human rights violations that exist in our world today? History has shown us time and time again that social life has been rather manipulative. Humans are very selfish creatures that oftentimes gauge their own interests before thinking about anyone else. We act very differently when we are by ourselves and when we are surrounded by others. When by ourselves, we can let our guard down to do whatever we want and say whatever we want because no one will judge or police us. Conversely, one we are placed in a social setting, we are constantly managing our impressions. Following the adage “first impressions last”, it is observed that we act out a rehearsed performance where we smile and act genuinely interested in conversation when meeting people for the first time. From here on out, we are subject to other social norms where we have to learn how to censor out thoughts before they come out of our mouth, all to save ourselves from getting into bad situations. The truth is that we are constantly manipulating others, whether unconsciously or not, so that we can get something out of these relationships that we’ve come to establish. It is because we are always managing impressions that we are able to ask for favors to be done for us to make our lives more convenient, and that we cannot be moral all the time.

  31. I believe that social life is more manipulative than moral. In my opinion, people may do nice things for others (making social life seem moral), but they do such things when there is a benefit to themselves. For example, many of us volunteered in high school, but most of us will also admit that we did so because we thought it would make us seem more appealing in college applications. As Goffman states, “the individual is likely to present himself in a light that is favorable to him” (7). We all constantly have our own interests in mind, so while we may sometimes act in moral ways, we only do so if it does not cost us.

    While this question placed the effort to make things less awkward under the moral aspect of social life, I would actually say that even when we avoid awkwardness we do so for manipulative reasons. For example, we may not tell someone that they have food on their face because it would make us feel awkward to point it out to them. Therefore, we let them embarrass themselves because we were not willing to feel uncomfortable in order to do something morally sound. This exemplifies that while sometimes our manipulative actions can coincide with morality, we still act primarily in ways that benefit ourselves. Another example of this would be donating money to a homeless person. While this may appear to have a cost to the person donating money, people who donate a couple of dollars to a homeless person obviously are not worried about paying their bills if they are giving money to someone else. Not only does it not have much of a monetary cost to the person donating money, but it also has the benefit of making them feel like a good person; they can check off their good deed for the day.

    Not only do actions such as these allow people to view themselves as good people, but also lead others to think that they are good people. The value that is placed on being liked and admired in modern society makes it so that essentially all actions are manipulative. Goffman explains that “when an individual appears in the presence of others, there will usually be some reason for him to mobilize his activity so that it will convey an impression to others which it is in his interests to convey” (4). This reinforces my original point that all actions are manipulative because people act based on their own self-interest. Social life is never simply moral; morality may be interacting with manipulation, but manipulation exists a constant aspect of social life.

  32. I believe the answer to this question changes depending on the person and the situation. Also, I believe that a lot of us do not actually know what our social life is other than a way to figure out who we are. I think as people interact they can not only confuse the two strategies, but not even be aware of this. With this in mind, I do believe that just inherently, social life always becomes manipulative. Even being moral can be manipulative. I think even just the way it was phrased in the question solidifies my point. If we are managing our impressions at all then we are manipulating. I feel like a truly moral social life would be completely selfless, to the point where the person not only neglects to manage impressions, but also forgets about life being awkward or seamless at all.

    Being moral, to me, does not mean being socially smooth and acting in socially acceptable ways. In fact, in my opinion, morality in social situations means ignoring the hankering to be socially acceptable and simply doing what is right for others. Ironically, acceptable, non awkward social norms are almost always immoral in a way.

    An example of this would be Goffman’s mention of white lies in Chapter 1. He discusses how people often have to lie, in some cases without actually lying, in order to save the feelings of others. He gives the example of the doctor or the guest who does not want to hurt their client or their friend by being honest. This is an incredibly common and socially acceptable practice that is entirely based on manipulation. Although it would be less awkward for a doctor to leave out disturbing information about a patient’s health, it hardly seems moral at all. Lying and trickery, large parts of maintaining social order, are immoral, yet almost necessary for everyday life.

    Also, Goffman alludes to the fact that every person, in an effort to “smooth over the social order” has to create multiple personalities, multiple characters. Most people do this without even realizing it or thinking that they are deceiving anyone. Innocent things like changing the way you dress when you go from hanging out with your friends to visiting your grandmother, are technically acts of deception. A person who was actually living a moral social life would be the same person to everyone. Ironically, the egotistical children we discussed in class are often more moral than adults, simply because they are completely honest with everyone, even without being honest sometimes. This is because they are not manipulating at all, and unfortunately, part of realizing social norms is realizing that social life finds it appropriate, almost necessary, to change yourself and your actions in order to act like a proper adult. In doing these things you are naturally deceiving, and naturally manipulating.

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