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The Sincerity Game: An Exploratory Study of Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgical Framework in Relation to Interaction and Identity Construction Online

Self-construction is an intrinsically interactionist process (Leary & Tananey, 2005). The formation and maintenance of identity is socially reliant. Understanding the ways in which interaction changes is therefore vital for recognising how the individual maintains an identity. Contemporary forms of online interaction via social media are, therefore, inescapably implicated in these larger processes. Interactionist theory and Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgical framework are grounded in the observations of face-to-face social situations. Identity construction scholarship since the introduction of technologically mediated interaction has yielded contradictory and incohesive results. Online interaction specifically has received special attention from an identity construction point of view. Implicated theories in such studies include variations of symbolic interactionism, romantic conceptions of self, idealisation, and postmodernism. Deductive reasoning through the tested application of a single identity construction theory has typically left alternative interaction theories unexplored. Online interaction has normally been considered “special, because it is technological mediated interaction” (Pinch, 2010, p. 412).And the unique treatment of online interaction has resulted in the general dismissal of Goffman’s interactionist perspective. This project attempted to re-evaluate the applicability of Goffman’s framework to online interaction. Inductive reasoning allowed alternative identity construction theories to arise naturally from in-depth interviews. Ten in-depth interviews and two case studies were conducted with users of the website Facebook. Participants were asked to discuss the ways in which they used the website to interact, and why. Coding and analysis followed by a constantly comparative approach allowed theory to develop naturally from the interview material. Goffman’s dramaturgical framework found considerable applicability in this project’s analysis of participants’ use of Facebook. The five components of the framework, the actor, the performance, the stage, the team, and the audience were each identifiable in participants’ articulation of their interaction on this social networking website. Limitations in applicability however, were found to be due to a lack of affordance recognition. Prior studies, attempting to reanalyse Goffman’s dramaturgical framework online, have found his perspective inapplicable. This reconceptualisation of identity formation has resulted in theorists exploring concepts of postmodernism and romantic idealism instead. Such stark perspectives were not articulated by this project’s interviewees. Rather, the primary finding of this project was that interviewees sought sincerity. Neither a fluid and multiple, nor a static and grounded identity was identified in participants’ Facebook selves. Interviewees instead took an approach to the social networking website best explained by adapting Giddens (1991). This project found that interviewees created a self through a narrative. By creating a trajectory of self through Facebook’s timeline and “maintaining constants of demeanor across varying settings of interaction” (Giddens, 1991, p. 100) interviewees sought perceived sincerity in their singular, evolving identity. As Facebook affords just one self to be portrayed to multiple audiences, unlike Goffman, Giddens’ perspective provided a resolution to Facebook’s lack of audience segregation and performance maintenance issues.
Type of thesis
Baker, A. L. (2012). The Sincerity Game: An Exploratory Study of Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgical Framework in Relation to Interaction and Identity Construction Online (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7087
University of Waikato
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