Goffman’s Theoretical Statement


Goffman’s theoretical statement that people use elements of performance to convince others to share their definition of the situation has a number of practical implications. First of all, this statement is highly realistic as it outlines means that are used by the majority of people for attaining their ends. Moreover, various social roles are performed on the basis of developing corresponding representations of reality. The current paper applies Goffman’s theoretical statement to the analysis of teachers’ strategies in maintaining authority in a classroom. All relevant aspects of this issue will be examined, and the ultimate conclusions will be made.

Explanation of the Statement

Erving Goffman explains that social interactions are not random and follow specific patterns. As almost all social goals cannot be achieved directly, people have to use theatrical performances in the process of direct interactions with others. He uses the term “performance” to describe “all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers” (Goffman, 22). Individuals try to change their appearance, manner, and setting to produce the necessary impression. In relation to the objective reality, people have to “inevitably misrepresent it” (Goffman, 65). Correspondingly, other people try to use this representation to develop their judgments and opinions about a given individual.


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Goffman also makes a realistic assumption that society is heterogeneous; therefore, social actors have to adopt different roles in different situations. As it is not always possible to select the optimal role ex ante, people have to act under the conditions of permanent uncertainty. Moreover, the actual representation of the strategy is even more important than the selection of one of the possible options. Thus, various “acts” that are implemented by individuals may be examined as an analogy of theatrical performances.

People typically try to maximize their positive influence to achieve their current objectives. However, some aspects of self are hidden from the audience because they may decrease the efficiency of the overall impression. Those aspects that are related to privacy and identity are typically hidden (Kivisto and Pittman, 7). At the same time, each person is also an audience for other people’s performances that make social interactions much more complicated than traditional social performances. In particular, people try to persuade others to adopt their definition of the situation as it is a basis for subsequent desirable actions. There is also a possibility that some definitions may be discredited. In such cases, people may continue acting as nothing has changed, and other members of society may help them in maintaining their face.

Application of the Statement

Although Goffman’s statement may be applied to a large number of social interactions, it is reasonable to use it for the analysis of teachers’ behavior in maintaining their authority in a classroom. Any learning process is an example of social interactions as students do not obtain knowledge directly but transform and receive a social message of teachers. At the same time, teachers aim at having the necessary level of authority to perform their functions more efficiently. As a result, they have to use (either consciously or sub-consciously) various Goffman’s elements of theatrical performance.

Teachers try to influence students (their audience) in several ways. First of all, they want to demonstrate their deep understanding of the subject, and its relevance to practical needs of the audience. Moreover, they want to generate interest in subject as it may substantially increase students’ motivation. In other words, teachers try to address both “activities oriented towards work-tasks” and those “oriented towards communication” (Goffman, 65). Only if both types of activities are adequately addressed, the teachers’ performance may be considered as being effective from a sociological perspective.

Each social actor is free to choose his/her stage and costume in trying to achieve his/her objectives. Thus, teachers may also use various tools and techniques in maintaining their authority. They should be highly oriented on the structure of needs of their students. It means that there are no a priori optimal strategies without any references to the audience (Melander and Wortmann, 82). As different groups of students have different interests and motivation, the same techniques may be efficient in some cases and completely inefficient in others. Therefore, it is reasonable to specify the expectations of the audience in the very beginning.

Then, it is important to integrate audience’s expectations with a teacher’s strategy. The long-term successful social interaction may be achieved only if the needs of all parties involved are properly addressed (Smith, 135). Thus, the teacher should be able to demonstrate that knowledge in this field may allow achieving  other fundamental objectives of the students. If the students agree with such an interpretation, they may willingly participate in lessons and view this subject as a means to the realization of their plans.

The teacher should use his/her definition of the situation about the importance of the given subject to persuade his/her students that it satisfies (directly or indirectly) their objectives. If he/she is successful in convincing them, then the teacher’s authority will automatically increase in a classroom. It seems that such indirect methods when students voluntarily choose to increase teacher’s authority are much more effective than any forms of manipulation or when imposing one’s view on others.

In order to adequately present this definition to his/her students, the teacher should be highly coherent. Significant problems may emerge if “appearance and manner contradict each other” (Goffman, 25). In this case, the audience may reject the proposed interpretation and definition even if the logical structure is well-developed. Therefore, the teacher in this theatrical performance should not rely exclusively on logical arguments as, for the majority of students, internal coherence is even more important (Ritzer, 76).

The teacher may maintain or increase his/her authority in a classroom through optimizing the process of theatrical performance. It means that he/she participates in social interaction as both the social actor and the audience. Thus, the teacher may encourage social activities of his/her students if they do not contradict his/her strategy. The teacher should always help students to maintain their face as any negative experience in this context may create substantial problems for mutually beneficial social interaction (Trevino, 97).

The teacher should also build his/her interaction with students in a way that will allow each student to present positive sides. Correspondingly, students should be free to have some hidden spheres of their lives. The mutually beneficial social environment should create equal opportunities for both teacher and students in their self-representation. The teacher’s authority in a classroom may be maintained if students feel free in their social interactions with each other.

The effective teacher’s strategy should include creation of imagery bridges to integrate all elements of students’ experience into one coherent picture. These relationships should not necessarily be logically correct as their purpose is not representation of reality but optimization of social interaction through increased students’ motivation. Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis demonstrates that students’ productivity may be increased through encouraging of competition among them. If a competition is organized not as a clash of antagonistic interests but as a process of motivating each other, it may both increase students’ knowledge and the teacher’s authority.

In any case, if the teacher can convince students that this subject addresses their needs, it will immediately affect students’ value scale and will lead to the re-evaluation of various alternatives. As a result, students may place additional significance to learning and interacting with a given teacher. It is important for social interaction in this case not to be limited to mere information exchange but include the opportunity of the realization of one’s full potential. Students usually enjoy a situation when they are free to present their positive aspects and hide negative ones. Thus, the teacher should be able to work with students’ representations without specifying all elements of the objective reality. As it is highly valuable for students, the teacher’s authority will inevitably increase.


There are no universal models of social interaction that lead to identical results in all possible cases because different audiences have different social needs. However, Goffman’s statement and overall theory allow optimizing teacher’s interactions with students. Development of the mutually beneficial environment and recognition of students’ interests are the necessary prerequisites for an ability to maintain teacher’s authority.

Another crucial aspect is internal coherence as appearance and manner should not contradict one another. All elements of social performance should be adequately integrated with one another in order to lead to the desirable social results. Teacher’s authority may be maintained and improved only with the help of persuasion as any forms of imposing one’s views on students are inefficient. If the teacher is successful in convincing students of his/her definitions, then they may independently arrive at the desirable conclusions. As a result, their motivation and knowledge will increase and that may be achieved only under the conditions of high teacher’s authority. In this way, social interactions may become beneficial for all parties involved in the learning process.

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