Care relationships
Care relationships

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Care relationships

1.3.2 Unsuccessful presentations

Activity 4: Unsuccessful presentations

Timing: 0 hours 5 minutes

Can you think of a recent situation where you felt uncomfortable because you did not manage to ‘project’ yourself as you would have liked (too shy say, or too loud, or just stupid)? Can you think of how you got stuck with that definition of yourself? Did you try to change it? How could you have presented yourself differently at the outset?


One example might be sitting in the living room while teenage children watch TV with their friends. You might like to appear less old and boring – to have joined in, commenting on the programmes, without seeming to be trying too hard; to have been seen as having a worthwhile point of view, and not just lack of insight into today’s popular culture.

Key points

Goffman’s argument runs like this

  • Each of us has an interest in exerting some control over what goes on within social interactions we are involved in.

  • We try to achieve this control through influencing the ‘definition of the situation’.

  • A key way of influencing the ‘definition of a situation’ is through the way you present yourself within the situation.

  • Your greatest opportunity for influence lies in your opening ‘projection’ of yourself, since after that you have to maintain a consistent ‘front’.

Erving Goffman (1922–1982) made a major contribution to the way we understand relationships within the medical and caring worlds. He was Canadian, but was based at Edinburgh University from 1949 to 1951 when he carried out research in the Shetland Islands exploring the way islanders related to each other. After returning to the USA he was involved, as a ‘participant observer’, in detailed studies of relationships within mental hospitals. Goffman wrote several influential books.


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