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In 1959, Erving Goffman published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The heuristic value of its concepts has been wide-ranging, particularly in the field of communication. The driving force behind self-presentation, accomplished by exchanging verbal and nonverbal messages during ongoing interactions, is to present and Jina H. Yoo Joseph B. Walth er 568 self-presentation gather information that will help ascertain what can be expected in particular social situations, as people present or infer the ostensible character of the self or of others.
The following are some basic self-presentation concepts. (1) ‘Self-presentation’: individuals project an image of themselves and thereby make explicit or implicit claims to be a particular type of person within that situation. This projected image demands that others treat him or her in the way that this type of person has a right to expect. (2) ‘Interaction’: reciprocal influence individuals have on one another when in face-to-face and mediated communication contexts. (3) ‘Performance’: activities of a participant in a particular situation that influence other participants’ impressions. The sincerity of the performance ranges on a continuum from completely authentic to a dishonest portrayal of self. (4) ‘Social role’: enactment of rights and duties associated with a particular status when performances are enacted in similar situations or with the same audience on different occasions.(5) ‘Defensive practices’: strategies and tactics to protect a self-presentation. (6) ‘Protective practices’: strategies and tactics to protect self-presentations of others, or tact. (7) ‘Preventive practices’: practices to avoid damaging a self-presentation before a mistake. (8) ‘Corrective practices’: strategies or tactics to repair self-presentations after they have been questioned. (9) ‘Team’: a set of individuals who cooperate in a performance. (10) ‘Frontstage’: the place where the performance is given and decorum is maintained. (11) ‘Backstage’: a place where the impression fostered by the performance is contradicted as a matter of course. (12) ‘Information control’: a team or individual’s withholding of certain information from the audience that would contradict the definition of the situation they are presenting (13) ‘Discrepant roles’: unexpected and unapparent relations between feigned role, information possessed, and regions of access. (14) ‘Face’: the line that a participant takes when presenting the self.
Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory also addresses cooperative performances that preserve self-presentation. It includes ‘positive face,’ or the need to be connected to and positively regarded by others, and ‘negative face,’ or the need to be independent and autonomous. Lim and Bowers (1991) added ‘competence face,’ or the need to appear capable. Research in interpersonal communication includes ‘self-disclosure’, the revelation of information that cannot be ascertained by other means that might result in loss of face if known by others. There is also a rich tradition of work on face, politeness, mitigating face threats, and the identity implications of social influence goals in different contexts.
The formal organization was the original context in which Goffman explicated the concept of self-presentation. Organizational communication involving self-presentation includes employment interviews, negotiation, gender diversity, job loss, public relations, and social responsibility.
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is one of the most fertile venues for the dynamics of self-presentation and discerning the veracity of others’ performances. Communication may take place online with no offline anchors to one’s physical or non-conscious characteristics, rendering CMC entirely comprised of cues that are ‘given’ rather than ‘given off.’ The most detailed theoretical treatments of self-presentation appear in two of the four elements of the ‘hyperpersonal model of CMC’ (Walther 1996). (1) Selective self-presentation explains how CMC users employ writing to reveal desirable information about the self in ways that are more intentional and discretionary than face-to-face communication allows. (2) They exploit characteristics of the channel to rehearse, edit, and rewrite messages, with interaction suspended or retarded, in ways that favor themselves and target their recipients; CMC messages are composed ‘backstage.’ Goffman’s influence is reflected in analyses of self-presentation through personal websites (Miller 1995) and, recently, in online match-making services. Health communication is more recent focus of scholars in communication. Some work has been done on self-presentation in this context, such as on support groups, and the area is one that should produce substantial future self-presentation research.
- Brown, P. & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Cupach, W. R. & Metts, S. (1994). Facework. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
- Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual. New York: Pantheon.
- Rosenfeld, P. (2002). Impression management in organizations. London: Thomson Learning.
- Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23, 3–43.