S 320 Foothill College Sociology Self and Society Essay

SchneiderS-320; Sociological Theory
Paper Option #3
The Construction of “Self”: Cooley or Goffman
Under the Microscope
The “self” is perhaps the central sociological concept in the study of socialization
and social interaction. The sociological concept of “self” refers to the combinations of
perspectives that we hold toward our own being, others, and the world. It is the way
we think about who we are and, as a result, how we approach the world. The “self” is
considered to be a social construction because it is shaped through agents of
socialization and interaction with others.
The following options will give you the opportunity to explore the great
significance of the self on everyday life. Please note that you need complete only
Option A or Option B.
Option A
“Self and society,” wrote Cooley, “are twin born.” This emphasis on the
indisputable connection between self and society is the theme of most of Cooley’s
writings and remains the crucial contribution he made to modern sociology. Cooley
argued that a person’s self grows out of a connection with others. The self, to Cooley,
is not first “individual” then “social;” it arises through communication with others.
“There is no sense of ‘I’…without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they.”
1. In a paragraph or two, identify what you think are the most important characteristics
of your “self.” For example, are you shy, creative, spiritual, ambitious, insecure? Are
you interested in music, sports, and/or the arts? Are you liberal, conservative, or
moderate? In sum, describe what you are like and the image you have of your “self.”
Be as detailed as you can.
2. Childhood socialization, as you may recall, is defined as “the process by which the
agreements in a society are learned and then transmitted generation to generation.”
How did these various agents of socialization lead you to develop your personal
characteristics and image of “self?” Family, education, mass media, religion, and peers are
the five recognized agents of socialization in American culture. Naturally, you need
only discuss those agents that had a significant impact on the formation of your self
(EVERYONE has at least two agents!). But for those agents of importance, provide
specific examples of how each shaped who you are today.
3. In what way(s) might Cooley’s “looking-glass self” apply to your socialization
experiences? Again, you need only apply the concept(s) that describe your unique
upbringing. But please do provide specific examples to support your position
regarding Cooley and “self” formation.
Option B
According to Erving Goffman, social interaction is essentially a performance
(remember his “dramaturgy?!). We try to present ourselves in a particular way by
preparing beforehand and by employing tactics during interaction to manage the
impression we feel best fits the social context. From this point of view, social
interaction becomes a form of self socialization as we work to convince ourselves and
others that we are a certain type of person.
1. Over the next few days, analyze three of your interactions using Goffman’s
“dramaturgy.” That is, keep careful track of how your behavior is like a
“performance.” For each interaction, answer in as complete a fashion as you can each
of these questions:
a) How were you performing like an “actor?”
b) What were your “roles?”
c) How (if at all) were these roles “scripted?”
d) Where were your “stages” of everyday life?
2. Now select a completely unique fourth interaction and discuss it in depth applying
Goffman’s four variables of dramaturgy. The range of possibilities is quite vast! A
family dinner, a meeting with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or being part of a religious
ceremony are just several possibilities.
Of course, you need only discuss the variables of dramaturgy that apply. But what
evidence can you provide for:
a) civil inattention?
b) impression management?
c) studied non-observance?
d) frontstage/backstage?
A paper in the 5-8 page range should serve you well. Paper Option #3 is due by 11:59
p.m. on April 28th, no exceptions, in double-spaced, readable font. Have fun,
Good day, Theorists! Today we continue with our investigation of the
Symbolic Interaction perspective in our wonderful discipline. Phenomenology as a
branch of S.I. has its roots more within philosophy than mainstream sociology.
Indeed, we can trace the very beginning of this “theory’” back to David Hume
(1711-1776), a Scottish philosopher, who focused on the issue of how we “reason”
or explain causal relationships in the small group. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
further developed the perspective my addressing how social phenomena are shaped
by the human senses. By definition, phenomenology:
“…is the study of the development of human consciousness and
self-awareness; a description of the formal structure of objects and
awareness in the abstract”
My, this is all quite abstract, isn’t it?  Of course…it’s philosophy! And you may
recall from earlier in the semester that one criticism of philosophy is that it
doesn’t apply its assumptions to real world social conditions. It was (and is) the
sociologists who take their ideas and apply them in the real world of social
It was Edmund Husserl (1859-1928) who put the phenomenological tradition
on the sociological map. But even HE referred to his sociological theory as a form
of “descriptive psychology.” Imagine that! And it was Edmund Husserl who
trained Alfred Schutz (1899-1959; we will discuss his theorizing next Tuesday)
who, in turn, trained the individuals who we will address Thursday; more
specifically, Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann. As always, it is my pleasure to
take what can be a very abstract theoretical viewpoint and present it to you in a
form that is user-friendly. But I will forewarn you—you WILL need to put on your
abstract thinking hats! Let’s get started…
I. The Ethnomethodology of Harold
Garfinkel (1917-2011)
As you can see, Garfinkel died 11 years ago in April at the age of 93. He
was Professor Emeritus from the Department of Sociology at U.C.L.A. Although
he was already somewhat advanced in years when I was at U.S.C., he still taught
his graduate seminar in ethnomethodology at “that other school across town.” I
wished so much that I would have had the opportunity to learn directly from one
of the masters of theory in our discipline. But he was at U.C.L.A. and I was at
U.S.C.; and the two schools were then, and still are, at odds in everything from
sports to education. He wouldn’t have cared one bit if SC graduate students
wanted to audit his seminars. But the “powers that be” would have none of it.
But that’s OK…we didn’t let their graduate students sit in on Kingsley Davis’
stratification seminars either .
The way in which he opened his very first class period, however, is the
“stuff” of folklore! For those of you from my age cohort (between 45 and 55; I’m
63 by the way ) you remember the periscope toys that we had as kids. With a
series of mirrors and tubes you could be on one side of a fence and see what was
happening on the other. Periscopes also allowed you to look around a corner. They
were kind of fun. Well Harold Garfinkel would walk in on the first day of his
seminars with a series of small garbage cans taped together with mirrors installed
in the appropriate locations. With this contraption he could stand with his back to
the class and still see what was going on behind him. Now what in the world was he
trying to demonstrate, do you suppose? To keep it simple, Garfinkel was trying to
illustrate “perspective.” Does what we see in front of us always represent the
“truth” of the social setting? Are there meanings that could be hidden, even if we
can visibly observe those present? How do we get to the heart of what “reality”
truly is? A second point of the object lesson had to do with challenging supposed
normative boundaries of behavior. Let’s face it…he must have looked really silly.
I mean, c’mon! Here we have this little guy who is a bit hunched over with thick
glasses and disheveled hair, and he is wearing a series of garbage cans taped
together so he can talk with his back to the class and still see what’s going on?!
What’s THAT all about?
As you will learn in lecture today, Garfinkel’s theorizing is pure genius. I will
share stories from time to time about how he thought at a different level from
most everyone else. He might not have given the appearance of brilliance at first
glance or upon first meeting. But intellectually he was always several steps ahead
of others in the social setting.
* My goodness…what in the world is
“ethnomethodology?” Good
question…let me give you a very
easy definition:
“…the study of the body of
common-sense knowledge and the
range of procedures and
considerations by means of which
the ordinary members of society
make sense of, find their way
about in, and act on the
circumstances in which they find
You know…
* The study of the
You have my word that I will not hold you responsible on Test #5 for the
lengthy definition of ethnomethodology. For our purposes in S-320, “the study of
the taken for granted” will suffice. But when Garfinkel references the study of
the taken for granted, what is he suggesting about the nature and patterns of
interaction in the small group? There are two different approaches to answering
this question that I will present today: first, the importance of accounts; and
second, the significance of breaching to reaffirm normative boundaries. You will
find superb examples of each of these theoretical “methods” in your assigned
reading in Farganis. But naturally, I will provide additional examples for you .
Before proceeding, I want all of you to become familiar with a KEY concept
of Garfinkel’s—“indexicality.” You are already aware that one of the platforms of
S.I. is “situational reality”, or the idea that meaning can change depending on the
symbols used and the actors who comprise the small group setting. “Indexicality”
is Garfinkel’s version of this assumption in action.
A. Importance of “indexicality”
Definition- the notion that
the meaning of any
particular action or event
is dependent on its social
B. Importance of “accounts”
Definition- accounts are the
ways in which actors
explain and analyze
specific situations… and
“accounting” is the process
by which people offer
accounts in order to make
sense of the world
On pages 263-264 in Farganis you will find a wonderful example of how the
“method” of accounting operates. Because it is there for you to read and digest I
won’t relay the details of the story to you. Of most importance to the accounting
process is the reality that in the spoken word there can be myriad interpretations
of what is being said. I urge you to try this for fun (yes, for fun ) and become
aware of what the meaning really is behind our words and words of others in the
small group.
To help you further understand “accounts” and the “accounting process”, I
have devised a scenario about which you can “mentally marinade.”
Scenario: The missed exam!
Before I proceed, I want to make crystal clear that I am not using this
scenario to implicate anyone in S-320! But I can assure you that in being a
“professor of record” since my Master’s Degree days in 1981 I have been faced
with this scenario on many occasions in my 42 years as an educator. Even though I
codify the guidelines regarding the “sacredness” of Exam days in the syllabus, life
presents challenges. Based on the guidelines I present (i.e., I must know the day
of or the day after a missed Exam the circumstances for absence) I attempt to
take much of the “accounting process” out of the equation.
Think back to the last time you missed an Exam, either because of
emergency or family situation, or you just spaced it out! Before ever approaching
the faculty member, think about how you came up with an “account” of what
happened. You may have even practiced ahead of time so as to better sell your
“account!” Above all, think about the symbolic interaction taking place in the social
setting. From language (verbal or non-verbal) to gestures, think about how your
“account” of the situation was received. The faculty member, too, had an
“account.” Our rationale for saying “yes” or “no” to your request was based on our
interpretation of the information given. Suppose you made the following
“I’m really sorry I missed the Exam.
My car broke down.”
Further suppose that what you REALLY meant by your statement was:
“Crap, I missed the Exam. I lost track of when the Exam was being given
because I was off snowboarding for a week. But in truth my car broke
down on the way home from Mammoth so I wouldn’t be telling a lie by saying
my car broke down.”
Will your voiced “account” be accepted or not? It all depends on the faculty
member and the posted guidelines for the class, I suppose. One faculty
interpretation for your “account” might be…
“OK, no problem. I remember when I was an undergrad my car breaking
down on the way to an Exam. I’ll get you fixed up…”
But another faculty “account” could be…
“No way, sorry. You’re telling me this a full week after the Exam was given
and I haven’t seen you in class since that time. Certainly there were other
options available to you in terms of getting here for the Exam…”
Regardless of the outcome to this scenario, please remember that…
* of most importance to
Garfinkel is not who is
“right”, but rather the
“accounting practices” by
which the explanation is
accepted or rejected
Is it clear to all of you that Garfinkel is not at all interested in passing
judgment on a situation or an interaction? He is interested in how the symbolic
interaction of the “account” ultimately determines outcome.
Some additional examples? Sure!  Try these on for size, being certain to
think about the many different “accounts” being provided in the “accounting
process.” Who is right and who is wrong? It all depends, doesn’t it?

The “Jury Verdict” (think about the different ‘accounts’ provided,
not only in the courtroom but also in the jurors room where “reality”
is determined)
The “I’m Home Late for Curfew” interaction between parent(s) and
The “Marriage Counselor’s Nightmare” where multiple “accounts” for
behavior(s) are justified
The “Honey, Does This Outfit Make Me Look Fat?” scenario that
apparently all significant others are faced with from time to time
The “Missed Birthday/Missed Anniversary” justification that many
of you have faced at some point in your lives
C. Importance of “breaching”
Definition- the process of
deliberately interrupting
the normal course of
interaction to determine,
challenge, and reaffirm
normative boundaries
I find this component of Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology to be useful not only
in S-320, but also my S-321 (Deviance) class where one of the writing options for
the semester gives the student an opportunity to go out and practice breaching on
their own! In a nutshell, Garfinkel argues that in American society much of our
behavior is based on norms which we assume are in place, but in reality might not
be. The only way to determine whether or not a normative boundary still exists is
to challenge it. Don’t forget, ethnomethodology is concerned with the “study of
the taken for granted” after all! On pages 265-266 in Farganis you are provided
with seven different “cases” in which the common norms of daily interaction were
challenged by the “experimenter.” Take a look! And enjoy . But to set the
stage, have you ever been tempted when someone asks, “How are you?,” to tell
them? And in excruciating detail? You know the norm for interaction…when
someone asks how we are doing, we are supposed to say, “Fine, how are you?” Even
if we are NOT at all doing fine! I am positive that in reading the cases provided in
Farganis you will get a good feel for Garfinkel’s intent behind the method.
You want some additional examples? Sure!  My pleasure. It seems as
though the majority of the time in American culture we abide by norms we assume
to be in place that have no actual verification for their presence. Yes, I know…we
have laws which are certainly codified. But what about the day-to-day
interactions about which we simply take the “rules for granted?”
Before proceeding, let me assure all of you that I never send students out
to conduct “breaching” unless I have already tried it out myself . Hey, I’m a
“deviant” at heart. One of my favorites has to do with the norms of grocery store
etiquette. I got to thinking one day while shopping, “you know…if people haven’t
paid for the goods in their cart yet, what makes the items theirs?” So I thought
I would test this normative boundary. After all, I have never seen a sign in any
store which says, “The items in people’s carts are theirs until paid for. As
such, hands off!” So I carefully select my “subjects” and proceed. I have done
this every few years just to test the normative boundaries. I make certain that I
don’t take something from a cart where a purse or pack is present, lest I be
accused of trying to thieve (and I wouldn’t blame them). Furthermore, I’m not
trying to be a jerk and just “take” their item. I always bring along a replacement.
Lettuce is a good item to work with because the quality is usually consistent. So I
take over a head of lettuce and then attempt to replace theirs with mine. I
usually say something like, “I hope you don’t mind, but your head of lettuce looks a
bit better than mine. You don’t mind if I trade with you, do you?” Or, “Your
head of lettuce has slightly greener tips than mine, can we trade?” Most of the
time people have gotten pretty upset with me (the norm is firmly in place). But to
demonstrate “situational reality” would you believe that several of the five times I
have conducted this “experiment” in Prescott, Arizona, people haven’t minded? In
fact, I usually end up having a conversation with the person for a few minutes
regarding cooking and recipes (the assumed norm is not in place). Catching on?
Another one? Sure!  Remember when we were talking about the civil
inattention (polite ignoring) that occurs on elevators? As well, we talked about
several norms of elevator behavior (i.e., face the door, no talking) that occur with
regularity. But I have never once seen a sign that lists “appropriate/polite
elevator conduct.” Suffice it to say, don’t ride the elevators with me! I
challenge the norms constantly, just to determine if the boundaries have shifted.
Crowded elevator or not, I always say “hi” to everyone. I look them in the eye.
Obviously I do not face the door. You would be amazed at the number of times
that when you say “hi” to someone on the elevator they smile and open up a bit,
even for the short duration of the ride. Has it ever occurred to you that if we
challenge the norms of “silence” and “personal cocoon” and get others to open up
and be more interactive, we could actually change the norms of “distance?” Give it
a try…be Garfinkel disciples and test those normative boundaries. You may
discover that what we assume to be in place in our culture is indeed, not. Will it
be situational? Absolutely. But that is the beauty of the S.I. branch of
ethnomethodology and its “parent,” phenomenology.
By the way, when I was in San Diego a few years ago for the Pacific
Sociological Association meetings I had a wonderful opportunity to try out the
Goffman notion of “civil inattention” AND the Garfinkel notion of “breaching” on an
elevator full of sociologists (who, frankly should know better). As we were going
up to the 15th floor in the Westin Gaslamp, it was so quiet you could hear a pin
drop. So naturally, I used a Garfinkel model of ethnomethodology and challenged
the boundary of “elevator silence.” After we went about one floor I said to
“Hey, what’s with all the civil inattention going on in here? We are all sociologists
here and should be challenging the norms of elevator silence!”
I’m happy to report that I received a BIG laugh and a few claps . Everyone in
the elevator knew precisely what I was talking about. And for the duration of the
ride various conversations—be they ever so brief—emerged. See? Even those of
us in the discipline who should be using opportunities to test boundaries of
“appropriateness” often find ourselves succumbing to normative pressure. Except
me, of course! Don’t EVER ride in the elevator with me. I’ll put you up to some
form of sociological investigation 
Discussion Board time! I would like for you to challenge at least one of the
following “norms” which we assume to be in place in American society. If you are
too bashful or shy to challenge them, at least think about how Garfinkel’s method
could be applied in each of the cases. Report back to all of us in detail what
transpired and whether you believe there to be sufficient evidence to suggest that
the norm is still in place.

Call your parents by their first names (this is one of the projects
Garfinkel assigned his undergraduates at U.C.L.A.)
Say “hi” to every person you pass on the Plaza; in other words,
challenge the “norm” of civil inattention [wear your mask!]
Walk up or down the staircase on the LEFT side, not the “appropriate”
“Take cuts” at the bank or grocery store or movie theater, where I
have never once seen a posted announcement or sign forbidding such
Not to drive my colleagues crazy (tee, hee) but stand in the classroom
rather than sit. If questioned, just state that you are more
comfortable in the upright position. Then ask others to join you.
Go to a fine restaurant and eat your entrée with your hands.
Conversely, go to McDonald’s with your fine china and silverware in

Challenge any other norm of your choice. Just don’t break the law
and expect for me to bail you out of jail. After all, laws ARE written
down and enforced via rational-legal authority (Weber, anyone? )
Breaching—as in our term “breaching of etiquette.” Garfinkel argues that it is of
extreme importance to continually “breach” in an attempt to determine if the
norms we assume to be in place indeed are.
Harold Garfinkel was a branch of the phenomenological “tree” in our
discipline; one first started by Edmund Husserl. Alfred Schutz was trained by
Husserl and worked alongside Husserl throughout much of his career, then passed
the torch to Garfinkel, Berger, and Luckmann (whom we will discuss next
Thursday). Garfinkel’s major contribution to the S.I. perspective was the concept
of “indexicality,” or the idea that the meaning of any action is dependent on its
social context. Furthermore, his “method” is captured in the study of
“accounting” and “breaching.” I urge all of you to actively engage in
ethnomethodology so you can experience firsthand the intent behind his method.
I would like to close today’s lecture with a story about Garfinkel. I hope
you like it. Back in the mid-1980’s I attended the American Sociological
Association meetings in San Francisco. Because I, as a U.S.C. Ph.D. candidate, did
not have the chance to hear Garfinkel in his seminars, I was very much looking
forward to one of the paper sessions on Symbolic Interaction at which Garfinkel
was the discussant. For those of you who do not know, a “discussant” is an expert
in her or his field, and they are present to listen to all papers being presented,
then summarize the relevance of the papers to the broader area of theory. I was
The room was filled beyond capacity, and I did not envy those who were
presenting. Not because Garfinkel had a reputation for being “mean” in reviewing
papers; quite the contrary. He had a reputation for being very supportive to
colleagues at whatever level of achievement. I did not envy them more because of
the “nerves” that went along with presenting in front of one of the founders of
theory in our discipline. Whew!
Well, everyone finished with their paper presentations and it was time for
the “Great Garfinkel” to address the audience as a discussant. So here is this
diminutive man, unkempt hair, disheveled appearance, thick glasses, who talked in
somewhat of a nasal tone. For the entire 15 minutes, I had no idea whatsoever
what he was talking about! Was I even in the same paper session as him? He
was trying to point out the threads of similarity in the five papers presented and
how they linked back to the “method” of ethnomethodology. He made absolutely
no sense to me whatsoever. I peeked around the room to see how others were
reacting and I was not alone. We all started looking at each other like, “Is this
guy nuts? Is he a has-been? THIS is the great Harold Garfinkel?” When he
finished, he of course received a huge round of applause. At the time I thought it
was because of his reputation, not his insights on that day.
I went out to lunch with some of my colleagues and new acquaintances who all
were in the audience that day. We talked about Garfinkel and how we couldn’t
believe that this guy was such a “great.” (Weren’t WE the pompous ones?!) The
direction of the conversation shifted to the topic of, “what did you get out of his
summary?” Each of us took turns sharing what few gems of wisdom we gleaned,
most verbalizing in disappointed tones. THEN IT HIT ME. As I was listening to
what the others were sharing and what I had already shared, it all started coming
together. “Is THAT what he meant?!” Wow…I had never thought of it that way
before. Others at lunch felt similarly. We were all of a sudden in awe of what
Garfinkel had shared. But it took our collective conversation of snippets and
pieces of his presentation before we could see the bigger picture. It was amazing!
“Accounts”, anyone?  It was genius on his part! We were blown away! In a 15
minute summary Garfinkel had actually touched on a new direction for
ethnomethodological investigation, but it was so far above our heads we couldn’t
see it at the time. I mentioned earlier in lecture that Garfinkel thought at a
different level than the rest of us, Ph.D. trained or not. His theorizing was
“See” you Tuesday!

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