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Erving Goffman's Theory of Social Action

Erving Goffman's Theory of Social Action

December 31, 2022

With a simple look at the posts of your friends or followers on social networks like Facebook or Instagram, we can see the way in which people reflect their life and personality through the photos and videos they upload.

However, in these networks there are no signs of suffering, hardship or sadness in the profiles of any of its members. We see many photos of happy faces, landscapes, smiles, phrases of overcoming; and yet there is no place for a reality as overwhelming and certain as it is the existence of human pain and suffering in the life of each person.

What do we really know about others when we see their profile on social networks? Can these virtual platforms tell us what people really are like?


This market of happiness samples that we find every time you open social networks, can be seen from one of the great theories of personality, developed by the sociologist and writer, Erving Goffman.

Erving Goffman and the personality created by interactions

This author develops his work around the creation of personality through interactions with others. He defends that a large part of our behavior depends on interpersonal scenarios and usually takes the forms of what we want to achieve and what interests us from our interlocutors. It is a constant handling of our image before others.


According to Goffman, in the interaction is always to define the situation in a way that allows to gain control over the impressions that others form of us. From this perspective, The best definition that corresponds to the person is that of an actor who plays a role and that acts through interactions with others.

From this theory, the interaction would consist of creating impressions that allow forming the inferences that benefit us and that reflect the intentions and the aspects of the identity that we want to communicate, making the relationship with the others a continuous management of the public image, a successive series of self-presentations.

Goffman's theory and social networks

Currently these self-presentations could be each of the photos and videos that we send to all those who follow us on social networks, as a way to create a positive image of others to obtain benefits on their own followers. But not only that would serve to sell our public image, but also each of the interactions we carry out on a day-to-day basis.


The meeting with the baker when buying the bread, the daily coffee with the coworkers, the appointment with that person that a friend introduced you ... Any of these scenarios involves the creation of impressions and, depending on your interpretation, the people with whom you interact will impose one personality or another.

From this perspective, identity is the way of presenting oneself as a function of the advantages and disadvantages of the possible multiple identities of the subject at a given moment. In short, Goffman's theory of social action would explain a set of roles that we are interpreting in each interaction with the objective of obtaining benefits and, above all, of being welcomed by society.

Goffman insists that such a play of representations never transmits the real identity, but rather the beloved identity, therefore, human behavior is characterized by the techniques of advertising, marketing and interpretation, which is why Goffman's model reflects the importance of negotiation as a form of social interaction .

The public image market

It is easy to conclude that it is a somewhat Machiavellian identity theory based on the superficial, the aesthetic and the false. However, the similarities of the conclusions of this author with the world of social networks and personal treatment, in which there is no room for suffering and misfortune but everything is hidden behind the products of a supermarket of happiness, appearances and aesthetics, they are very real and it is necessary to take them into account.

At least, to make us aware that the person behind that Instagram account may be far from the person who is actually .


Social Interaction & Performance: Crash Course Sociology #15 (December 2022).


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