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Theorizing Goffman And Freud: Goffman's Interaction Order As A Social-Structural Underpinning For Freud's Psychoanalytic Self.


Often misread as a straightforward critic of psychiatry, as his work Asylums has too often been misinterpreted, or as a sociologist of emotions, Erving Goffman demonstrated genuine and profound interest in psychoanalytic themes such as self-construction, unease in interpersonal relationships, regulation and transgression, and the textual and performed qualities of the self. By reading Goffman in a dialectical way with Freud, we are able to connect the Interaction Order to the psychoanalytic conception of the self and thereby open up new possibilities of interpretation and transformation. We can use a reading of Freud to identify the unconscious processes implied in Goffman's concepts and a reading of Goffman to place Freud's analysis in an interactive and dramaturgical perspective. These readings enable us to see self-construction in the light of a sociological imagination that extends beyond alleviation of individual symptoms.

We propose a new sociological grounding of psychoanalytic thought, namely using Erving Goffman's dramaturgical model and the concept of the Interaction Order as ways of illuminating the Freudian notions of the superego, the ego-ideal, the introjection of the Father, and the pathways to disorder (which Freud termed "neurosis" in the terminology of his day). Freud conceptualized neurotic symptoms as representations of underlying unconscious thoughts--which may or may not be representations of "real" external experiences, above all interactions with parents--and suggest that these neurotic symptoms become modes of "performing" --topics that are elucidated by a reading of Goffman's work. We offer this reading as a contrast to previous ways of conceptualizing the connection between psychoanalysis and societally-focused views of the self, which included: occasional hints in Freud's clinical work, such as his fable about the two little girls, the janitor's daughter and the little rich girl; his speculative writing, such as Totem and Taboo and Civilization and Its Discontents, in which the discussion is extensive but not well grounded in systematic empirical inquiry; and the voluminous theories proposed by Frankfurt School scholars, feminists, and mid-20th century critical social psychologists. (1)

First, Goffman's concept of the Interaction Order enables us to understand more clearly the Freudian concepts of superego, ego-ideal, and the introjected Father. The Interaction Order is both present in infancy and continually "in operation" in adulthood. The Interaction Order can be visualized as an ongoing drama of performances that can be collaborative or antagonistic, tightly scripted or improvised, consensual and routine or widely divergent and wildly unpredictable. The individual's performance within the Interaction Order in the present draws on the textualized and scripted residues of the Interaction Order that shaped the self in the past. The Interaction Order is not only a force in the present but also an internalized structure, composed of fragments and sediments from many moments of self-formation.

Second, both Goffman and Freud use a dramaturgical approach to understand disorder. Freud as well as Goffman observes the performance of disorder, a condition Freud called "neurosis." In addition, we elaborate on the dialectic of external / internal by linking Freud's "symptoms" to Goffman's modes of disordered or flawed interaction. We suggest that hysteria can be connected to havoc and obsessive compulsive disorder to hyper-ritualization. Through these points of intersection, we can see how Freud illuminates the ways in which disordered thoughts lead to disordered performances that in turn lead to disordered interaction, and how Goffman identifies the ways in which breakdowns and disruptions in the Interaction Order can generate havoc and hyper-ritualization. This dual reading enables us to develop a critical view of society and the Interaction Order beyond the disorders that afflict individuals.

The psychoanalytic reading of Goffman and the interactionist reading of Freud allow us to bring to conscious awareness our symptoms for phenomenological interrogation and to view the issue of interiority/ exteriority in new ways. We can question whether "a cure" is a matter of ridding ourselves of these symptoms/behaviours and becoming better adjusted to the social order, thereby making ourselves more "normal" in the process--that is to say, more conforming to the prevailing expectations for effective performance and interactions. Or can a "cure" involve change in the social order as well as the self? If we examine not only processes internal to the self, but also the Interaction Order in which the self is produced and performed, we can link therapy to critical social analysis that highlights the ways in which the social order invokes us to take up identities and positions that conform and function as normal/ normatively oriented.

Interpretations of Goffman's Work

The relation between Goffman's work and psychoanalysis has traditionally been characterized in three negative framings: first, Goffman had no interest in the interiority of human experience; second, Goffman was a critic of psychiatry or was "anti-psychiatric"; and third, Goffman was a sociologist of emotions. These readings lead several scholars to miss a dynamic component of Goffman's theoretical apparatus, conflate Goffman's critique of psychiatry with a critique of psychoanalysis, or take emotion as the phenomenological endpoint of analysis and thus stop short of examining the three-way linkage among emotion, interaction, and unconscious processes.

The Interiority of Human Experience: Was Goffman a theorist of an "empty self"?

Some readers of Goffman suggest that he saw the self as an empty vessel, without interiority, that is filled by social forces. This position is compatible with Goffman's own assertion that he is a neo-Durkheimian, a social-structuralist working at the micro level. For example, Ian Craib, whose work Experiencing Identity is invested in establishing a psychoanalytic understanding of experience for sociologists, interprets the work of Goffman as stripping away the meaning of individual experience and arguing that experience is usually "unrecognized or systematically suppressed (Craib 1998: 84)." As a result, a deep understanding of how the psychic and the social interlock in a reciprocal fashion has been ruled out of Goffman's theoretical apparatus, a view shared by Jeffrey Prager (1998, 2006: 277) who argues that Goffman disclaimed any need to understand a person's inner world in order to understand patterns of behaviour between social actors and that he used "psychiatric examples" only as a foil to deny the need for exploration of interiority.

Similarly, Philip Manning argues that Goffman's "investigations of the world of face-to-face interaction--the interaction order--do not by design contain a view of identity and meaning" (Manning 2003: 163). All of Goffman's sociological investigations (the ethnographic, the ethnological, the taxonomic, the strategic, the conversational analytic) share "an indifference to speculation about subjective states, preferring instead to use observable interaction" (Manning 2003: 170) even at the cost of failing to account for motivations (175).

An Anti-psychiatric Reading

Manning's interpretation not only sees an "empty self' in Goffman, but he, like many others across a wide range of disciplines interprets Goffman's work as "anti-psychiatric" (Bass 2007; Grob 2011; Gronfein 1999; Mac Suibhne 2011; McHugh 1992; Prager 1998; Riesman-Oelbaum 1972; Rothman 1991; Scull 1986; Sedgwick 1982; Siegler and Osmond 1971; Spruiell 1983, Weinstein 1982, 1994). Manning's interpretation is of particular interest, since he sees Goffman's critique of psychiatry as a critique of psychoanalysis (Manning 2003, 2005, 2006). For Manning, Goffman's opposition to psychoanalysis was both theoretical and practical, since Goffman believed that "psychoanalytic explanations are simply inferior to our own homespun ones (Manning 2005: 170)." Manning discusses Asylums at length as Goffman's "most explicit assault on psychiatry as a scientific pursuit and as a medical practice" (Manning 2003: 175). Finally, an important extended discussion of Goffman's work in relation to psychoanalysis is Peter Sedgwick's work (1982), which places Goffman in the company of Laing, Foucault, and Szasz as a spearhead of the anti-psychiatry movement. The authors will argue that Goffman was drawn to psychoanalysis and that readers should not conflate a critique of psychiatry with a negative orientation towards psychoanalysis. (2)

Goffman and the Sociology of Emotions

Several sociologists have situated Goffman's work squarely within the subfield of the sociology of emotion, identifying embarrassment or shame as central to Goffman's project (Billig 2001; Branaman 2003; Brooks and Gronfein 2005; Heath 1988; Meltzer 1996; Scheff 2006, 2007, 2013; Schudson 1984; Turner 2006, 2009). Christian Heath argues that for Goffman, embarrassment lies at the heart of the social organization of day-to-day conduct by constraining individuals and invoking public responses to problematic behaviour (Heath 1988: 137), a point also made by Michael Schudson (1984: 633-634)

Finally, Scheff's work, the most sweeping and comprehensive on the theorizing of Goffman and the sociology of emotion, argues that shame is the "master emotion" which is produced when the social order is threatened. Scheff explores how applying Goffman's perspective to the analysis of emotion-management techniques of shame can help us understand conflicts amongst individuals, groups, and nations. Yet Scheff sees an opportunity for dialogue between Goffman and psychoanalysis, although he believes the "cross-over" into the psychodynamic realm was inadvertent (2005: 159). We will argue that Goffman was interested in psychoanalysis, not dismissive of it, and the "crossover" was by no means inadvertent. He was especially interested in the emotions of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation, the emergence of these emotions in past interactions, and the constant effort to avoid them.

Goffman's Longstanding Interest in Psychoanalysis

Goffman's interest in psychoanalysis is visible throughout his work, though more explicit in his earlier writings. In an essay from 1956, predating Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, "Embarrassment and Social Organization," Goffman reveals in a footnote that he is thoroughly familiar with psychoanalytic work. (3) Goffman makes clear through his own observations, as well as the scholarly literature he cites to support his claims, that he is well aware of the most current research being done in the area of psychoanalysis. He remains ambivalent about its value however, because he emphasizes the synchronic force of the reference group in interactive contexts rather than infantile and unconscious sources of unease. However, in the next passage in the essay, his use of the terms "imagined presence," "unconscious basis [of the concern" and "felt to be there at the time" suggest that present and past are not entirely distinct. (4)

This paper will not be concerned with these occasions of instrumental chagrin but rather with the kind that occurs in clear-cut relation to the real or imagined presence of others. Whatever else, embarrassment has to do with the figure the individual cuts before others felt to be there at the time. The crucial concern is the impression one makes on others in the present-whatever the long-range or unconscious basis of this concern may be. (Goffman 1956: 256-257)

Goffman's references to psychoanalysis are not systematic, and often they are citations of the work of H. S. Sullivan or Bruno Bettelheim, rather than that of Freud or the narrower circle of orthodox Freudians. However, these early remarks suggest that from the very beginning of Goffman's sociological training he was aware of and well-read in the area of psychoanalysis. (5)

Furthermore we need to remain cognizant of the Zeitgeist, of an atmosphere in which not only popular culture from musicals to marketing was steeped in psychoanalytic imagery, but the social sciences themselves were consistently engaged with it. The work of Talcott Parsons is a prime example of this engagement and one with which Goffman was conversant. It is also important to keep in mind the influence that psychoanalysis had on Canadian sociologists, so well exemplified by the work of John Seeley (Seeley et al. 1956; Seeley 1967; Rossman 2007). It is very likely that Goffman was familiar with this direction at the University of Toronto in the late 1940s and 1950s. Therefore, we can trace a sustained dialogue, both explicit and implicit, forged from his earliest training and running throughout his work. We argue that the questions Goffman raised and the framework through which he sought answers to those questions cannot be fully understood without an engagement with psychoanalysis, specifically the concepts of repression, ego-ideal and superego. (6)

In approaching Goffman in his conversation with Freud, we can gain new insights into and appreciation of the theorist who conceptualized society as an Interaction Order based on frames and rituals, yet who also sensitively analyzed the stigmas and emotional humiliation people suffer in their ongoing agonistic negotiations of performing self in everyday life. Goffman provides a model of how the self is formed and performed in interaction, making explicit what is only alluded to by Freud. In turn, Freud helps illuminate the conflicted interiority of our social selves, an interiority which contains repression and transgression, submission and resistance.

The Interaction Order

For Goffman, the Interaction Order is the normatively governed domain of social life within which face-to-face interaction is structured and occurs. The Interaction Order is defined by uncertainty and contingency with the ever present possibility for suffering humiliation and punishment, feelings that are in turn linked to fears of dismemberment and disfigurement, of blinding and castration, which were the child's responses to uncomfortable and even frightening interactions. These reiterated and constantly reawakened fantasy responses are the substance of psychoanalysis. Material from Freud's cases can illustrate the dialectic of external and internal, the way that unsettling interactions are processed into fears and fantasies that undergird a script of disorder which in turn produces another externalized set of disordered interactions and performances. The initial situation of disordered or uncomfortable interaction (often in childhood or adolescence) triggers internal processes of fantasized punishment, humiliation, and repression which in turn impinge on subsequent performances and interactions. The interaction situation can be imagined, rather than real--imagined on the basis of past experiences in interaction--as Goffman makes clear when he states that activities pursued in utter privacy are socially situated and refers to the imagined presence of others.

For Goffman, the Interaction Order is the structured and regulated arena in which social life unfolds:

It is a fact of our human condition that, for most of us, our daily life is spent in the im-mediate presence of others; in other words, that whatever they are, our doings are likely to be, in the narrow sense, socially situated. So much so that activities pursued in utter privacy can easily come to be characterized by this special condition. Always of course the fact of social situatedness can be expected to have some consequence, albeit sometimes apparently very minor. These consequences have traditionally been treated as "effects," that is, as indicators, expressions or symptoms of social structures such as relationships, informal groups, age grades, gender, ethnic minorities, social classes and the like, with no great concern to treat these effects as data in their own terms. The trick, of course, is to differently conceptualize these effects, great or small, so that what they share can be extracted and analyzed, and so that the forms of social life they derive from can be pieced out and catalogued sociologically, allowing what is intrinsic to interactional life to be exposed thereby. (Goffman 1983: 2-3)

This passage highlights Goffman's emphasis on the primacy of the social for understanding social life and how without irony, the "effects" that the social brings about in individuals are "symptoms" which when extracted and "analyzed" can make the implicit aspects of social life explicit and "exposed."

The Interaction Order itself is not to be thought of as a rigid structure with fully determined or predictable consequences. Two major forces intervene and prevent any type of mechanical reproduction or simple replication of fixed social structures. One of these forces is interaction itself which is not predictable and instead is shaped by the actions and performances of contending actors with different aims, following different scripts. The second force is the inability of each subject to completely comprehend this unfolding interaction and the tendency of each to bring to it a host of fantasies and interpretations. By his recognition of these uncertainties, Goffman avoids the reductionism that Wrong termed the "over-socialization thesis" (1961) as well as what Bourdieu referred to as "sociologism" (Bourdieu 1984), the position that the incorporation of the social into the self is straightforward, isomorphic, and therefore a simple reflection of social/ social power/ socialization itself. Individuals within the Interaction Order never have mechanical responses to it; rather different people make different sense of these shared but often contentious or ambiguous conditions, a range that includes the normative, the idiosyncratic, the neurotic, and the transgressive. Thus, any notion of a simple or homogenous reproduction of the Interaction Order is undermined.

The Interaction Order and the Superego

The Interaction Order establishes the dynamic through which behaviour is regulated by larger social-normative forces external to us, and thus it mirrors the Freudian superego as an internalized manifestation of these forces. The Interaction Order as social-structural regulation and superego as psychic-structural regulation form complementary and reciprocal notions of power through which both external and internal pressures constitute the subject and the subjects's self-identity. The superego is implied in the Interaction Order, as it is both "out there" in the normative order and internalized in the subject. By viewing the Interaction Order--internalized as the superego in the self, and the superego as externalized in the Interaction Order--we can see in both Goffmanian and Freudian terms how the Interaction Order is the superego / Fear of the Father that is socialized into us in early childhood and carried forward into adulthood with the anxiety of punishment in all social interaction.

The initial unease--the primordial response to the realization that one has brought about a disruption in the Interaction Order constituted by parents and other adults--is later socially "translated" into guilt, shame, and other uncomfortable feelings, according to the practices and frames of the cultural milieu. Guilt is only one of a range of responses that can emerge when the underlying sense of unease one experiences starts to be framed in a particular linguistic category (and guilt is the one that Freud chose to emphasize in his European cultural context) (Freud 1923: 27). These feelings work to internalize the authority of society--the Father--as a form of social-psychological conscience that guides what one is normatively oriented to do in social interaction. The feelings include fear of the consequences--embarrassment, loss of face, and corporal punishment (which the child may imagine as disfigurement, dismemberment and castration--the literal "loss" of a body part as the underlying fear). Both the Interaction Order and superego (as the personification of the Interaction Order) precede the individual, as one is always socialized into an already existing world not of one's own choosing. As Freud says of the superego:

Although it is accessible to all later influences, it nevertheless preserves throughout life the character given to it by its derivation from the father-complex--namely, the capacity to stand apart from the ego and to master it. It is a memorial of the former weakness and dependence of the ego, and the mature ego remains subject to its domination. As the child was once under a compulsion to obey its parents, so the ego submits to the categorical imperative of its superego. (Freud 1923:48-49).

The Interaction Order, like the superego for Freud, is a modality of the social which exerts external "influence," "force" "power," and "pressure" over our development and whose "demands" we "accept" as it becomes introjected and internalized into the individual in the course of development. (7) Initially the Interaction Order is condensed around and imagined as the person of the Father. It is then actualized and made a part the unconscious/conscious mind and conscience of the individual. Goffman emphasizes the orderly, shared nature of the Interaction Order as it emerges and spreads geographically and historically (Goffman 1983: 3).The Interaction Order for Goffman rests upon the discursive and non-discursive practices of social life that form the taken-for-granted background of intelligibility and the embedded history of social norms through which we are socialized into the types of selves that we are. For Goffman, it is here, in the intimately intertwined aspects of the Interaction Order and the performing self, that the dialectical psychodynamic between self and others, public and private, interior and exterior, comes to shape both social and psychic life. Goffman's contextualization and historicization serves as a concrete social structural grounding to Freud's universalization of norms in psychic experience.

For Goffman, we are subjected to the Interaction Order, in that we did not chose this mode of interaction or the socio-historical conditions in which we find ourselves, and yet we depend on that very Interaction Order to sustain our identities. The Interaction Order--the external regulative norms governing our behaviour and conduct and pressing us into modes of interaction--assumes a psychic form that constitutes the self-identity. The "psychobiological" aspect of the Interaction Order can be seen as both physical-external and psychic-internal because "ease and uneasiness, unselfconscious-ness and wariness" refer to both exterior and interior dimensions of the self (Goffman 1983: 3).

Failure in the Interaction Order

Goffman argues in his final essay (1983) that self-identity is determined by indeterminacy and that despite the "ordering" of the Interaction Order, there is at every moment a possibility of uncertainty. Performances can fail, audiences can misunderstand, and the normative order can break down at every turn. This uncertainty opens up the possibility of change or alternatives to the current scripting of self and the social order within which it is embedded. Neurotic symptoms and neurosis are signs of disruptions in the social order, rather than individual defects or the inability to conform to social norms.

Goffman framed this world of performances and presentations in terms of our internal sense of self. In Freud's tripartite dissection of the psyche, the superego represents the introjection of the punishing Father and the norms of society, an internalization that is charged with the power of the id, and like the id, is insulated from the external world. (8) For Goffman, presentations are always motivated and evaluated by our sense of pride and esteem. Like Freud's superego, this evaluation is an embodiment of the social norms of a particular society. Performances for Goffman are always about impression management, and designed to avoid embarrassment and discrediting in social life. Embarrassment, humiliation, the impression of incompetence, and any other negative or self-degrading emotions are always to be avoided. He theorized that social interaction was always governed by an implicit normative imperative of saving-face and acting in ways that create the best possible appearance. Therefore he focused on the social standards of beauty, body-image, etiquette, style, and signs of intelligence that psycho-dynamically structure our interpretations, evaluations, orientations, and dispositions of both self and others.

Loss of face is both external (others laugh at you and dismiss you) and internal (you fail to live up to your ego-ideal). The social standards mentioned in the preceding paragraph are internalized earlier in life but then constantly reinforced; they always have an aesthetic dimension and an embodied aspect. The standards of performance are the regulating mechanisms of social conduct and the criteria by which the self evaluates itself and others. The self's relation to the Interaction Order includes elements of both the ego and the superego in Freud. In part, one's behaviour in interaction must correspond to the exigencies of the real, immediate situation; but in part it is also a response to internalized expectations, layers of sediment created in past interactions from infancy onwards and insulated from ongoing "reality checks." The superego is the internalization of the Interaction Order; it is the internalization and crystallization of those regulating social forces into the psychic structure of the self. The child learns and interprets these standards of interactive performance, re-imagining them in terms of the ego-ideal and guilt vis-a-vis the punitive parent, an orientation which is later constantly applied to ongoing situations and "dredged up" from the internalized sediments of interactive experiences. Freud and Goffman offer complementary and compatible concepts of internalization, fundamentally agreeing about what is internalized, when and how it is internalized, and how the internalized standards of successful interaction are constantly activated in current contexts.

Standards of Performance and the Ego-Ideal

The standards that regulate the Interaction Order, the standards of beauty and effective performance by which all performances are evaluated, are in fact what Freud refers to as the "ego-ideal":

This ideal ego is now the target of the self-love which was enjoyed in childhood by the actual ego. The subject's narcissism makes its appearance displaced on to this new ideal ego, which, like the infantile ego, finds itself possessed of every perfection that is of value. As always where the libido is concerned, man has here again shown himself incapable of giving up a satisfaction he had once enjoyed. He is not willing to forgo the narcissistic perfection of his childhood; and when, as he grows up, he is disturbed by the admonitions of others and by the awakening of his own critical judgment, so that he can no longer retain that perfection, he seeks to recover it in the new form of an ego-ideal. What he projects before him as his ideal is the substitute for the lost narcissism of his childhood in which he was his own ideal. (Freud 1914: 94)

Examining the Interaction Order as the ego-ideal, as the generating context and standards by which we evaluate the self and others, dialectically opens up a psychoanalytic dimension to the work of Goffman and simultaneously draws the structuring aspects of the social world into the Freudian apparatus. If the psychoanalytic is implicit in Goffman, in turn, the social is implicit in Freud--one cannot be already situated in the social and one cannot evaluate oneself or others without internalized criteria that govern (consciously or unconsciously) action and behaviour.

Eventually children reach the Oedipal stage in which the fear of the castrating father establishes the superego, the ego-ideal, and the internalized norms of society. As this internal dynamic of experience-transformed-into-fantasy unfolds, it is stored as a text in the unconscious, a story of a perilous journey told according to the narrative devices of primary process thinking, and it becomes the basis of a script for future performances. This fantasy narrative is stored in the unconscious and activated in adolescence (the prime time for embarrassment and humiliation) and adulthood. The overall process is one in which the initial criteria for assessing others' assessments of one's action and self-presentation are established. We learn what it means to perform and to have our performances fail (or succeed).

Neurosis As Interaction Disorder

What is neurosis? Is it a social construct, a bio-somatic condition, an externally-imposed label, or a type of behaviour marked by "symptoms" and an inability to pursue the routines of everyday life. Goffman's concepts allow us to flesh out the social dimension, a sketchy point in Freud's original formulation that a neurosis is caused by a sequence of processes: an initial fixation of the libido, frustration in adult sexual life, an attempted regression to the points of fixation, and unconscious repression of these attempts at regression to the points of fixation. (9) This formulation treats the libido as a sort of fluid that becomes viscous and adheres to bodily parts, impulses, and unconscious representations of these impulses. This quasi-biological model is at odds with Freud's own attention to verbal processes and his prescription that treatment must be based on free association and transference. These therapeutic practices are social, interactive, and dramaturgical processes replete with scripts, monologues, improvisation, re-casting of "parts" in a family drama, repetition of scenes, and performances. The neurosis-generating process that Freud called "repression" can itself be seen as in part a product of over-regulation (as he suggests in his fable of the "over-regulated" little bourgeois girl whom he contrasts to her less regulated working-class playmate). A shift from a bio-somatic (or bio-medical) model of neurosis to an interactive model is necessary in order for free association and transference to make sense as treatment (Aho and Guignon 2011). (10) Otherwise the psychoanalyst is left without an explanation why a "talking cure" in which the patient "transfers" past relationships into the analysis could possibly be effective.

Goffman's dramaturgical model of social life raises the question how we learn to perform our parts. As he states:

For in learning to perform our parts in real life we guide our own productions by not too consciously maintaining an incipient familiarity with the routine of those to whom we will address ourselves. And when we come to be able properly to manage a real routine we are able to do this in part because of "anticipatory socialization", having already been schooled in the reality that is just coming to be real for us. (Goffman 1959: 72).

Goffman not only reiterates the interactive and performative aspects of self-reconstruction but provides ways of seeing the neurosis itself as taking the form of failed and disruptive interaction and performances. In order to "perform our parts" we must be able to "manage" our routines and behaviours, and these practices must be properly socialized into us in order for our social interactions to be considered normal.

Freud himself offers a key entry point into an interactive and dramaturgical model of neurosis in his discussion of neurotic symptoms in Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1920/1966) in which he describes the case of a woman who repeatedly calls her maid into a room to look at the patient sitting next to a table. Using the language of performance, he argues that this obsessive behaviour is a performance that repeats and resolves the embarrassing and humiliating situation of her husband's impotence on their wedding night. Here the initial humiliating interaction is internally and unconsciously transformed into a performance that re-enacts and "makes right" the original failed interaction. Freud argues that the act is a re-enactment and re-creation of the incident of her wedding night when her husband poured red ink on the bed to hide his impotence. She substitutes the table for the bed and acts out, but in almost completely indecipherable form, the part of her husband. Freud remarks:

The evidence that the compulsive act carries meaning would thus be plain; it appears as a representation, a repetition of the original significant scene. However, we are not forced to stop at this semblance of a solution; when we examine more closely the relation between these two people, we shall probably be enlightened concerning something of wider importance, namely, the purpose of the compulsive act. The nucleus of this purpose is evidently the summoning of the maid; to her she wishes to show the stain and refute her husband's remark: "It is enough to shame one before the maid." He--whose part she is playing--therefore

feels no shame before the maid, hence the stain must be in the right place. So we see that she has not merely repeated the scene, rather she has amplified it, corrected it and "turned it to the good." Thereby, however, she also corrects something else,--the thing which was so embarrassing that night and necessitated the use of the red ink--impotence. The compulsive act then says: "No, it is not true, he did not have to be ashamed before the maid, he was not impotent." After the manner of a dream she represents the fulfillment of this wish in an overt action, she is ruled by the desire to help her husband over that unfortunate incident. (Freud 1920: 323-325).

The neurotic symptom is the fulfillment of a wish in an overt action, a performance that recreates--but with a correction and thus a happy ending--a humiliating scene. Freud's own discussion of this symptom is highly dramaturgical, using phrasing such as "repetition of ... the scene" and "whose part she is playing ..." He thereby is already opening the door to a micro-sociological and dramaturgical analysis of a "neurosis" as a performance, a position he then returns to through the concept of transference as treatment.

We have already discussed the way that the Interaction Order can be used to explain the actual mechanisms of introjection of the castrating father and the formation of the superego and the ego-ideal. The mysterious "fixation of the libido" then is the creation of special and extremely intense unconscious memories, based on remembered, mis-remembered, and often simply fantasized mood states and interactive experiences in the passage from infancy to adolescence, originally based on real people, real impulses and real punishments, but then transformed into a fantasy narrative formed in primary process thinking with its condensation, displacement, and visual imagery.

The performative character of neuroses--the way the symptoms are performances that represent repressed material (both repressed impulses and the mechanism of repression itself)--is brilliantly and explicitly presented in a number of Freud's clinical cases: the woman pointing to the table whom we have already discussed, as well as Dora and the Rat Man, to which we will turn later. Freud's case studies illustrate the dialectic of external and internal, the way that unsettling interactions are processed into fears and fantasies that undergird a script of disorder which in turn produces another externalized set of disordered interactions and performances. The initial situation of disordered or uncomfortable interaction (often in childhood or adolescence) triggers internal processes of fantasized punishment, humiliation, and repression, which in turn impinge on subsequent performances and interactions. These cases all convey the sense of a theatrical performance, some perhaps in the genre of Victorian drama as Steven Marcus says of the case of Dora (1984), others (such as those of the Rat Man and the girl with the sleep ceremonial) of a more expressionistic and ritualized style that the modern reader might find reminiscent of the work of Genet, Ionesco or Pinter. Goffman offers three clusters of concepts that are especially useful for thinking about neurosis as interactive disorder: humiliation; framing, scripting, and hyper-ritualization; havoc and containment. These concepts help to bridge the exterior-interior divide and allow us to see "neurosis" as emerging from and manifested by disordered interactions.


Humiliation is a concept that bridges the object-subject divide, encompassing the intentions of those who inflict humiliation, the interaction situation objectively viewed, and the feelings of the humiliated (which may or may not be accurate reflections of experience).

Goffman appears to deliberately blur the distinctions between "real" and externally-imposed humiliation and the internal feeling of humiliation; he declines to separate clearly the exteriority-interiority of the experience of humiliation into a "real" and an "imaginary" component, and this blurring is consistent with Freud's claim that seduction and other traumatic interactions in childhood are sometimes real and sometimes fantasized. The child is compelled to be part of the Interaction Order from the moment of birth. Unease and humiliation accompany failure in the Interaction Order in which the child is compelled to participate, and they (along with their culturally-conditioned precipitates, guilt or shame) are carried into adulthood, as unconscious sediments in memory and feeling. They accompany any efforts to "return" to a point of fixation; that is, humiliation and unease constitute the mechanism of repression that prevents perversion. They often come to color all interactions, drenching them in the ominous feeling tones of early childhood encounters with powerful adults (parents or parental stand-ins). At the extreme, the feeling of unease is a powerful feeling of dismemberment, dis-figurement, or penetration that transforms parts of the body into unthinkable zones, the "not-me" charted by H.S. Sullivan (whose work was a key point of reference for Goffman's work (Goffman 1959, 1961, 1963a, 1963b)).

While all individuals are subject to feelings of unease and humiliation to some extent or in some situations, the "neurotic" is one who feels it ubiquitously, when it is not intended, or is only slightly present in a situation, and above all, when it triggers the memory of the over-regulated acts or impulses. The awkwardness that comes with the sensation of humiliation then produces a further "ritualization" of performance, and this ritualization is recognized by the individual (in the state of mind that is popularly labeled "being self-conscious"), which in turn triggers further stylized or ritualized patterns of interaction, in an almost infinite regress, like a person trapped between two mirrors.

Framing, Scripting, and Hyper-ritualization

Having suggested that the sources of "neurosis" lie in the Interaction Order, we turn to the question of how these experiences are encoded, "fixated," and carried forward into later interactions. Goffman's concepts of framing, scripting, and hyper-ritualization become useful here in that they draw attention to the rigidities that are introduced during the act of matching formulaic, standardized, and conventional words and images to acts and feelings that may be highly idiosyncratic and deeply troubling. Goffman saw his work as linking individual experience to the social order, and frames are one of the mechanisms for translating idiosyncratic experience to socially shared formulas (Goffman 1974: 13).

In framing, the initial intense and wordless impulses of the infant and young child are transformed into socially meaningful portrayals and socially conditioned responses to these impulses, as we have discussed in the section on the superego. Framing is a ubiquitous mechanism of regulation, present in the mind of the child as much as in the media (Goffman's main point of reference in this discussion); conventional words and categories are super-imposed on impulses and acts. Framing creates a channel between the id and the superego. The child experiences impulses and senses that adults respond to the expression of these impulses with disgust and hostility. The child's initial unease with adult responses may expand into terror, characterized by Freud as castration anxiety. As these feelings slide from the id into the superego, verbalization and the process of framing transform them from the sensation of impulses and fears into conventional categories of regulation and prohibition, such as guilt or shame.

Scripting can be thought of as one type of framing, a framing that structures or organizes actions for more or less improvised scenes and can be carried into adolescence and adult interactive situations. The script is related to the standardized and formulaic productions of the media which are used to create standardized actions in everyday life:

Consider now dramatic scriptings. Include all strips of depicted personal experience made available for vicarious participation to an audience or readership, especially the standard productions offered commercially to the public through the medium of television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, and the legitimate (live) stage ... their deepest significance is that they provide a mock-up of everyday life, a put together script of unscripted social doings, and thus are a source of broad hints concerning the structure of this domain. (Goffman 1974: 53).

In "The Interaction Order" Goffman writes of scripting and biography, in that each individual already has an established biography of "prior dealings" with others and a vast array of cultural assumptions "presumed to be shared" (Goffman 1983: 4). Since the script of our biography has already been written, it proves difficult to undo or rewrite. Since children are always within the Interaction Order that has been formed by adults, it is not of their own choosing or agency; it is always adults who create the order in which a biography is constructed/written/scripted.

As we saw in Freud's example of the woman who calls her maid to the table, the scripting that takes place in the unconscious, based on past interactions, is often rigid and produces stylized, repetitive actions that the individual cannot understand.

Returning to Goffman's interest in interaction as regulation, we can see hyper-ritualization as a form of interactive behaviour that is produced by over-regulation (as an intensification and routinization of the actions discussed in Goffman's earlier 1967 work on ritual in Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior). The self is performed in rituals that are dictated by and scripted by an unconscious text, the residue of impulses, prohibitions, and repression. These are the neurotic symptoms that to some degree are performed by everyone, but especially intensely and frequently by individuals who are labeled or think of themselves as neurotics. In the process, the self becomes opaque not only to others but also to oneself (both for Goffman and in psychoanalytic theory). Our dramatic scriptings become acted out in a "hyper-ritualization" of behaviour and interaction. In Gender Advertisements, he asks:

...what is the difference between the scenes depicted in advertisements and scenes from actual life? One answer might be "hyper-ritualization." The standardization, exaggeration, and simplification that characterize rituals in general are in commercial posing found to an exaggerated degree, often re-keyed as babyishness, mockery, and other forms of unseriousness ... By and large, advertisers do not create the ritualized expressions they employ; they seem to draw upon the same corpus of displays, the same ritual idiom, advertisers conventionalize our conventions, stylize what is already a stylization, make frivolous use of what is already something considerably cut off from contextual controls. Their hype is hyperritualization. (Goffman 1979: 84)

The script is implicit in the dramaturgical model from the start. It is partly improvised and it is partly scripted. Because it is contextual--audience oriented--it has both components. The "dramaturgical" is one of the links between the loose scripting of self-performances and the Freudian description of neurotic symptoms as repetitive rituals. Goffman's concept of "hyper-ritualization" which he develops in Gender Advertisements provides further clues for linking the vague concept of neurosis to specific actions (or behaviours) in interactive situations. "Hyper-ritualization" refers to actions, gestures, expressions, and conduct that are stylized and stereotypical; hyper-ritualization gives the individual the appearance of an automaton, carrying out actions that are not of their own volition but are entirely guided by the external force of highly rigid social expectations. Goffman focuses on the stylized gestures and motions of women in advertisements, but one can extend the analysis to the "canned" speech and mannerisms expected of workers in the hospitality and retail sectors. Neurotic symptoms involve situations in which an individual's actions and body appear to be scripted and hyper-ritualized even in informal interaction and without externally-imposed expectations.

Tightly scripted performances, the inability to improvise, repetitive motions, stylization of speech and gesture, and socially-scripted hyperritualization--these are all clues within the Interaction Order that previous regulation in the Interaction Order has been imposed too rigidly on individuals, rendering them unable to perform according to the aesthetic criteria of authenticity, spontaneity, and autonomy. They appear to be governed or driven by "someone else" whom we could variously label the fixated unconscious, the introjected father, or the "demands of society."

Obsessive-compulsive disorder: hyper-ritualization

Two of the cases discussed by Freud illustrate these hyper-ritualized performances of symptoms which are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorders. In these disorders ceremonial actions and obsessive thoughts begin to dominate the individual's thinking and actions. The disorder resembles religion, or a parody of religion, in attention to details of ceremonial actions. Freud illustrates these disorders with his account of a young woman who has an obsessive bedtime ceremonial in which she arranges her pillows and bolsters and places objects such as a clock on a table; Freud points out the sexual symbolism that unconsciously structures the patient's rituals (1916/1989: 327-333). Another example is furnished by the case of the Rat Man who obsessively thinks about a torture in which rats chew a man's anus. He cannot express himself coherently, but only in ritualized fragments of dialogue (Freud 1909).

Havoc and Containment

Havoc and containment are another set of interactive experiences associated with disorders that Freudians might label "neurosis." The chaotic interactive mode of havoc-production is distinctly different from hyperritualization whose rigidity suggests a history of over-regulation. Havoc in the child's social setting disrupts adjustment to the Interaction Order and generates a disruptive way of performing the self that is carried into adult life. Goffman defines "havoc" as an interactive condition, specifically as a breakdown of normative interaction. He states very clearly that "mental illness" is not merely a label placed on people but an interactive situation that precipitates efforts at containment, through the removal of havoc-causing individuals from society (the institutionalization of criminals and the mentally ill) and the discrediting of the havoc-causers. Containment of havoc is one of the regulatory processes that constitute society and is not only a sanctioning of individuals for "deviant" behaviour. He states in Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order: "It is this havoc that psychiatrists have dismally failed to examine and that sociologists ignore when they treat mental illness merely as a labeling process (Goffman 1971: 357)."

"Havoc" names the condition in which individuals are not able to be self-governing or self-sufficient in society. The result of havoc is a state in which there is no longer a code or framework for making sense of one's own or others' experiences or for deciphering social activity in general.

Goffman's concept of "havoc and containment" allows us to picture a cycle of uncertainty, extreme unease, and the production of disruptive interactive strategies that is produced when (for various reasons) a child is left unconsciously seeing its every action as producing chaos and disorder. Its feelings and experiences are ones of not being self-governing, of lacking a code, and of living in a world of disorder. The scripting of its later performances becomes focused on the propensity to produce havoc, a very different regulatory situation from the one that produces hyperritualization. For example, hysteria, hypochondria, and "false recall" are not only symptoms but interactive strategies that are unconsciously used to disrupt family interaction and family functioning. Similarly, the dynamic of havoc and containment can contribute to the formation of the mysterious "borderline personality," and the psychopath or sociopath--all conditions that are notoriously resistant to medication. Adults can provoke havoc consciously in acts of transgression and resistance, as well as inadvertently and unconsciously.

Havoc and containment in childhood thus are interactive situations (as well as states of mind) that can form the havoc-producing adult, the individual whose characteristic interactive pattern is one of violating local norms and expectations, interfering with the flow of interaction, and creating profound disruptions in a family or organization. Though the production of havoc is not always deliberate resistance or transgression, it can be; and one might argue that key roles in social movements and contentious politics (such as the "broker" in McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly, (2001/2002), and the closely-related role of the polarizer) may draw on such individuals.

Freud's analysis of the case of Dora reveals a parallel understanding of how disorder is generated in an individual by complex interactions that can be misapprehended and responded to on the basis of layered fantasies (Freud 1901). In Dora's case, a havoc-ridden series of interactions produced disorder in one of the participants who then becomes the "designated patient" condemned by her unconsciously determined response to act out a sick role and perform the symptoms of hysteria that represent not only her own repressed wishes but an entire set of interactions centered on the sexually harassing behaviour of the husband of her father's mistress. The disordered relationships among the adults in her life precipitate her hysterical symptoms, gastric pains, constant reproaches to her family, and the writing of a suicidal letter. In short, havoc in the Interaction Order precipitates disordered and disruptive responses in the most vulnerable participant. The point is not to challenge Freud's interest in her sexual feelings, but to see Dora's illness as also a response to a set of troubled interactions, a drama of havoc and deceptions--to see the matrix or context of deception and aggression within which she unconsciously consigns herself to the performance of hysteria (Marcus 1984: 70).

Neurosis (or disorder) in turn has consequences for interaction, as Freud makes clear in his discussion of secondary gains, the way in which neuroses can be used to advantage in interaction. Freud remarks on those instances in which patients draw benefits from their troubled condition and successfully use it to manipulate others: "In average circumstances we recognize that by escaping into a neurosis the ego obtains a certain material 'gain from illness.' In some circumstances of life this is further accompanied by an appreciable external advantage bearing a greater or less real value (Freud 1916: 475)." Freud provides the example of the unhappily married woman who uses her neurosis to compel her husband to pamper her and remarks that she can complain about her illness in a way that she cannot directly complain about her marriage. His use of the word "external" makes it clear that he is very aware of the complex dialectic of external and internal, the constant feedback from the external to the internal and back again, each cycle amplifying the disorder in both the individual and the interacting social circle.

In short, a dramaturgical reading of Freud highlights the performative manifestations of disorder, including the re-enactment of humiliation (the woman who summons her maid), hyper-ritualized repetitive gestures and stage-sets (the girl with the bedtime ceremonial of rearranging her room), tightly scripted thoughts and utterances (Rat Man), and family dramas in which the individual cast in the patient role is forced to become the protagonist of interactive havoc (the case of Dora). "Neurotic symptoms" are disordered performances and failed interactions that signal underlying disturbances of thought and even of one's sense of being.

Transference: Psychoanalytic practice as an Interaction Order

If neurosis is a product of interaction, the way to change the self must begin with a verbal (symbolic) action, free association, conducted in an interaction. Alongside free association which is produced as an individual verbal performance of a text--a monolog--the psychoanalytic situation requires an interaction, a two-person performance. This interaction is transference, an interaction in which the performance and gestures associated with the initial production of the self are verbally recreated and repeated, with the analyst "acting" the part of the original interaction partner (even if this "acting" appears to be largely silent and passive, and further complicated by counter-transference); thus the process brings to light ways in which the initial self-text was produced in interaction and the neurotic symptoms, the initial self-performances, were scripted. Gradually the patient grasps the stifling constraints formed in this initial interaction and scripting.

As psychoanalysis progresses, the transference/interaction enables the individual to begin to create a second text, the self-reflective text based on free association and interaction with the psychoanalyst. The clash of the two texts--their contradictions and inconsistencies--casts doubt on the first text and ultimately leads to its questioning and eventually enables the patient to break the magic spell -the framing and scripting that produce the neurotic symptoms. The new text is linked to new ways of performing the self, ways that are more interactively effective and less linked to humiliation, shame, and the negative interactive responses of adults to the child's bodily impulses. Re-imagined in this way, psychoanalysis is closely related to interactionist theory and focused on the same terms: scripting and performance (verbal and textual processes); and the Interaction Order (with adults often interacting in humiliating, over-regulating, and havoc-creating ways that are then repeated as performances that shape all subsequent interactions).


Goffman's Interaction Order can be thought of to be a two-fold panopticon, however not in the Foucaultian sense of the term. For Goffman, the external social world is one of total visibility. Here there is no generalized external gaze or sense of surveillance, rather--we are watching and decoding others, while they are doing the same to us in a never-ending crisscrossing of glances and feedback loops. Simultaneously the inner world of the psyche is also defined through its total visibility--in our never ending self-consciousness of all aspects of our behaviour that may lead to humiliation, degradation, or disfigurement. This is not simply internalizing the normative order, and therefore having our conduct rigidly regulated through that internalization, rather it is a nonstop reflexivity or self-awareness that is probing for possible missteps or miscues. Since one is always already in the Interaction Order--constantly interacting--the double panoptic effect works to reconstitute both self and Interaction Order simultaneously.

While Goffman was not explicitly advocating for social change, Goffman's work on the treatment of mental patients in Asylums and the marginalized in Stigma can be seen as his deep sympathy for the vulnerability of human beings. As Gary Marx has remarked:

As Goffman poignantly instructed, we are all stigmatized in some way ... His writing does engender sympathy for the suffering of others. Like Freud, part of Goffman's power was his courage to push limits and say what others knew, but could not, or would not say. (Marx 1984: 659)

By making explicit Goffman's contribution to psychoanalytic theories through this dialectical engagement with Freud, especially his elucidation of the unstable nature of the self and the Interaction Order, we can see how Goffman's notion of the self and the Interaction Order open up possibilities of change and social transformation of social relations.

Goffman as analyst brings to light our symptoms, and in doing so, his framework offers us a way to connect the unconscious self, self-performance, and the Interaction Order so that we can individually and collectively understand the sources of our discontents and put an end to ritualized repetitions of disordered experiences, and thereby shape both ourselves and the Interaction Order in more healthy and humane ways.


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The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and Editor Kevin Haggerty at the Canadian Journal of Sociology for their constructive feedback, as well as Michelle Peters-Jones for her work in seeing through the details to publication. A special thank you goes to Pascale-Anne Brault for her generosity and expertise in translating the abstract into French.

Black Hawk Hancock is an Associate professor of Sociology at DePaul University. He is the author of American Allegory: Lindy Hop and the Racial Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2013). His main research interests are in ethnography, race and ethnicity, and social theory. His work has appeared in Ethnography, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, Qualitative Sociology and Sociological Perspectives. His interest in psychoanalysis stems from Leo Bersani's lectures while he was an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley.

Roberta Garner received a PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago. Morris Janowitz was her dissertation advisor, and Bruno Bettelheim was one of her instructors, so the psychoanalytic perspective has been a long-standing influence. She is a Professor of Sociology at DePaul University with interests in political sociology, social movements, research design, and theory. Most recently she developed a course for undergraduates about culture and society in ancient Greece and Rome.

(1.) Bringing Freud into the conversation about Goffman in addition to the usual interlocutors of Durkheim, Parsons, and Foucault and enables us to re-examine the relationship among Sociology, Social Psychology, Psychology, and Psychoanalysis.

(2.) While it is beyond the scope of this paper, the fields of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, social psychology were all in play during Goffman's intellectual formation and he would have been aware of the distinctions among them. See Goffman (1955, 1956, 1961)

(3.) In "Embarrasment and Social Organization" Goffman writes: A sophisticated version is the psychoanalytical view that uneasiness in social interaction is a result of impossible expectations of attention based on unresolved expectations regarding parental support. Presumably an object of therapy is to bring the individual to see his symptoms in their true psycho-dynamic light, on the assumption that thereafter perhaps he will not need them (see Paul Schilder, "The Social Neurosis," Psycho-Analytical Review, XXV [19381, 1-19; Gerhart Piers and Milton Singer, Shame and Guilt: A Psychoanalytical and a Cultural Study [Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas, 1953], esp. p. 26; Leo Rangell, "The Psychology of Poise," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, XXXV [1954], 313-32; Sandor Ferenczi "Embarrassed Hands," in Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis [London: Hogarth Press, 19501, pp. 315-16)." See Goffman (1956: 256)

(4.) Here Goffman introduces a diachronic aspect into his view of the social, arguing that we not only respond to people in our immediate co-presence, we are also responding to imaginary others (past, present, future) which shape our behavior and comportment.

(5.) Randall Collins points out that Goffman's interest in psychoanalysis predates any of his publications and can be documented as early on as his undergraduate training (Collins 1986: 110).

(6.) Randall Collins, who early on established some of the links between Goffman and Freud, argued that "Goffman shares several of Freud's ambivalent appeals. Freud's dictum that in civilization we are all neurotic becomes translated by Goffman into the social inevitability of artificial realities, and the deep and ever-present vulnerability of individuals to each other" (Collins 1980: 172).

(7.) See Freud's vignette "In the Basement and on the First Floor" for his view of how "education" (i.e., social pressure of bourgeois society) is exercised over children--specifically girls--to insert the repressive aspects of the social order into individuals, disabling their capacity for sexual pleasure. Freud is explicit about the external, socially-defined, and class-specific character of the pressure (1916: 439-440).

(8.) See Freud (1914) for a discussion of narcissism and how the superego becomes the internalized voice of the family.

(9.) For a discussion of seduction, fixation, and fantasy as they emerges from the social contexts and real interactions once experienced, see chapters 22 and 23 in Freud (1916).

(10.) For a detailed phenomenological reading of the talking cure, see Aho and Guignon (2011).
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Date:Sep 22, 2015
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