Beyond Goffman: Studies on Communication, Institution, and Social Interaction

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Society and Social Interaction

The pictures are set out in columns and meant to be looked at in the same manner in which newspaper columns are read. It is also significant that GA is alone among Goffman's books published in his own lifetime that is prefaced by a commentary authored by another writer [3].

The US edition features an "Introduction" by Vivian Gornick "What Erving Goffman shares with contemporary feminists is the felt conviction that beneath the surface of ordinary social behaviour innumerable small murders of the mind and spirit take place daily" [Gornick, ix]; see also West whilst the early British imprints contain a "Foreword" by Richard Hoggart "this brilliant, suggestive book" [Hoggart viii]. The provision of such prefatory material seems to signal a publishing "event. But coffee table sociology it most assuredly is not.

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Gender Advertisements Revisited: A Visual Sociology Classic?*

The first two written sections of the book contain as dense in both senses and as extensive an exposition of EG's analytic preoccupations and methodological reasoning as is to be found in any of his writings. Chapter One establishes the principal features of his "special concern", namely gender display, the culturally conventional portrayals of sex-class membership ordinarily available and noticeable to society members at a glance.

Chapter Two offers a lengthy disquisition on the varying senses in which pictures can be said to "really" depict their referent [4]. The book versions of GA were published simultaneously in the UK and USA in and differ little from the original journal version of [5]. It is worth remarking that the paper quality is poorer in the book, which compromises the reproduction of some of the darker images.

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The glossy paper of the journal publication reproduces black and white tones more effectively -- important when one remembers that many of the advertising images in GA will have appeared in colour in their original textual sites. The publication of the book in the UK occasioned some controversy. The first imprint of the UK edition used a cover photograph featuring two female models posed in a manner contrived to be alluring to the male gaze. It provoked one British reviewer to speak of the "offensively misleading cover of Gender Advertisements" Kuhn, Another Hunt observed that the photograph was a glaring example of "the use of women as sex-objects to promote the sale" of the book.

She continued: "What are we to make of it? Has Goffman or his publisher picked up some useful hints in this study of the advertiser's trade? Goffman apparently did recognise that the picture exploited the very matter the text was meant to criticise. He insisted that GA was concerned with analysing the merchandising of culture, not aiding and abetting the process. Of course, a book cannot be judged by its cover, but a raw nerve in the politics of representation had evidently been touched and subsequent printings of the UK edition used the more innocuous US jacket. The critique of common sense biological thinking about gender as well as popular ethology is taken further in GA.

Gender displays are most emphatically not to be regarded as residues or remnants of the evolutionary development of the human species, nor are they "natural expressions" of our supposedly "essential" nature as men and women. Instead, Goffman contends that "there is only a schedule for the portrayal of gender Persons as gendered agents enact an appropriate schedule of gender displays. Nor are the displays to be treated simply as part of the froth of social existence: in the hierarchical relations between the sexes they are "the shadow and the substance" Goffman, 6 of gendered social life.

Gender displays serve to affirm basic social arrangements keeping women in their place and they present ultimate conceptions of the nature of persons our "essential" gender identity.

Beyond Goffman

These displays are suffused with a behavioural vocabulary typical of parent-child relationships. The "orientation license", "protective intercession", "benign control" and "non-person treatment" which parents ideally extend to children also serves as a model which characterises the socially situated treatment of adult women by men.

Thus, "ritually speaking, females are equivalent to subordinate males and both are equivalent to children" 5. The largest and in many ways most significant part of GA is devoted to a "pictorial pattern analysis" 25 of the presentation of gender and femininity in particular in advertisements.

Goffman undertakes to describe some principles of gender display in contemporary Anglo-American society: relative size, the feminine touch, function ranking, the family, the ritualization of subordination, licensed withdrawal.

Stephen H. Riggins (Author of The Socialness of Things)

The use of collections of photographs has the considerable advantage of allowing subtle features of gender displays to be exhibited, not merely described. The persuasive force of this analytical strategy is considered further below. It depends on the way empirical materials function as illustrations of an analytic theme. At first sight the pictures in GA appear to have a broadly equivalent function to transcripts in conversation analysis. They seem, like transcripts, to allow readers the opportunity to assess the adequacy of the interpretations presented by Goffman, to see how far his reading of the pictures works for us.

But in fact the procedure is much more one-sided. The reader thus has to engage in a kind of search procedure, visually scrutinising each series for evidence of the gender display Goffman has just described in words. The reader scans the series of pictures looking for a family resemblance in the collection and, to the extent that the reader finds the resemblance Goffman has indicated, the written description is corroborated visually.

The process involves something more than just giving empirical reference to the written observation. As readers we seem to employ what Garfinkel calls the documentary method of interpretation. Making sense is a two-tiered process. The upper tier consists of surface particulars, the lower tier the presumed underlying structure or pattern indexed and developed by surface particulars. In the case of GA, surface particulars are provided by the words and pictures of Goffman's text. The underlying pattern is the sense we arrive at about "mock assault games" or "body clowning" from reading Goffman's words and looking at his collections of pictures in that way.

See pictures [Goffman, ] for "mock assault games" and pictures [Goffman, ] for "body clowning" [8]. Our understanding of the features of any given gender display is thus built up through this to-and-fro process of mutual elaboration of surface particulars and underlying pattern. The procedure is a powerful persuasive device which makes it difficult for the reader to resist the interpretation which Goffman seeks to obtain from the arrays. In an examination of the use of ethnographic and other case materials in Goffman's earlier writings, Watson , argues that he provides an "instructed reading" which very effectively transforms the reader's endogenous understandings of these illustrations to secure his analytic points.


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A kind of gestalt switch is thereby achieved in which the reader's understanding of an illustration is altered in the direction indicated by Goffman's analytic schema. A broadly similar procedure appears to be at work in GA; we could say that the reader engages in "instructed viewing. Goffman is so successful in exploiting the connotative penumbra surrounding the visual data precisely because the laconic text and concatenations cf. Barthes, of pictures actively require readers' and lookers' work for the analysis to emerge.

For Watson, like other ethnomethodologists e. Schegloff, , the overlooking of endogenous understandings represents a regrettable loss of a significant topic for sociological inquiry. However for Goffman it is precisely the development of a new perception, generated by the alignment of the written text and the concatenation of pictures, that yields a fresh understanding of the underlying, taken-for-granted features of gender codes. One very simple use of GA by content analysts has been to sensitize researchers and even beginning students; Jones, to everyday forms of gender dominance and subordination, as in Provenzo's analysis of video game characters.

However a major difficulty in adopting Goffman's gender display categories is that they do not meet two of the essential coding requirements of standard forms of content analysis: that categories are mutually exclusive, and that the system of categories is designed to be exhaustive of all the content under investigation. It seems that a given advertisement can readily support two or more of the genderisms Goffman identifies.

Take the example of picture in GA : Goffman classifies it as an example of licensed withdrawal via the withdrawal of gaze but it could just as readily exemplify the bashful knee bend, a type of ritualization of subordination Moore, One very simple use of GA by content analysts has been to sensitize researchers and even beginning students; Jones, to everyday forms of gender dominance and subordination, as in Provenzo's analysis of video game characters. However a major difficulty in adopting Goffman's gender display categories is that they do not meet two of the essential coding requirements of standard forms of content analysis: that categories are mutually exclusive, and that the system of categories is designed to be exhaustive of all the content under investigation.