Sociological Perspectives

Table of Content

The following paper will present a compare and contrast paradigm of the respected theories of Goffman and Garfinkel with Giddens as a counterbalance.

Goffman’s theory of dramaturgy relies on people’s functions and reactions in society, “For example, many service occupations offer their clients a performance that is illuminated with dramatic expressions of cleanliness, modernity, competence, and integrity. While in fact these abstract standards have a different significance in different occupational performances, the observer is encouraged to stress the abstract similarities” (page 3).  For Garfinkel also the function of an individual in society is witnessed through common culture, “Socially-sanctioned-facts-of-life-in-society-that-any-bona-fide-member-of-the-society-knows depict such matters as the conduct of family life, market organization, distributions of honor…and the presence of good and evil purposes behind the apparent workings of things” (page 76).

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The theory of structural analysis according to Gidden’s article “Agency, Institution, and Time-Space Analysis” to a more succinct recognition according to modern sociological thought.

Giddens differentiates society into two stratifications: action (which emphasizes the subject) and structural analysis or institutional analysis (which emphasizes the object).  In the subject according to Giddens  it is the locus of sense experience who is attributed with social change and structure, while with the object the social mores are what influence the knower.  This is the duality of structure in micro and macro sociological analysis (the micro with the subject, the macro with the object), as Giddens states, “In sociology it has taken the form of an oppositions between theories which emphasize human agency or ‘action’ and theories which emphasize ‘institutional analysis’ or structural analysis” (page 335).

Giddens further explains the definition of this dualism in attributing a dichotomy of roles for both action and institution.  Action by Giddens is defined through capability and knowledgeability.  With the definition of capability Giddens means the possibility of action or the otherwise unacted action, “…whenever we speak of human action we imply the possibility that the agent could have acted otherwise” (page 336) and by knowledgeability he means exactly that; the social members being knowledgeable about the workings of their society.  This dualism of social structure must be adhered to in order for the social characters to perform actions on a diurnal social encounters in either a practical conscious manner or as Giddens states in a discursive conscious manner (which is more subtle and less in the forefront of cognition) (Giddens 336).

Giddens states of institutions in the manner in which he wants the reader to define them, “By institutions I mean structured social practices that have a broad spatial and temporal extension:  that are structured in what the historian Braudel calls the longue dureé of time, and which are followed or acknowledged by the majority of the members of a society” (page 337).  Thus actions accordingly are performed in institutions almost without conscious effort by the actors as in Giddens’ example of the linguist asking the layperson to define the structure by which their conversations exist, but the structure has been so ingrained in the social construct of language that it is known intrinsically by the actor and thus supercedes definition by society as Giddens states of Merton, “Rather than concentrating his attention on ‘action,’ he is primarily concerned with how social forces operate ‘behind the backs’ of members of society so as to effect specific outcomes either stabilizing society or leading to social change” (page 337).

With the above definition of Merton’s views in mind the dualism in social action may be seen as defined by the terms manifest and latent functions.  Giddens disregards manifest action as too broad in terminology.  Giddens goes on to state that symbolic interactionism is the crux by which Goffman’s theories are defined and in this theory through social encounters such as face-to-face, and the second theory implored in the paper is functionalism (page 339) both of which add to social institutions on micro and macro levels of dualism.

Giddens tries to explore the dual definitions of action theory and institutional analysis as not predisposed to hegemony in sociological thought but rather, “I do not think that the dualism that I have described between action theory and institutional analysis can be resolved merely by declaring that there can be a sort of sharing-out of the tasks of sociology.  The problems involved lie at a much deeper level than that.  Micro-sociological analysis cannot be identified ipso facto with action theory, or macro sociological analysis with the theory of institutions” (page 339).            Giddens further explains of this dualism that structure in both functional and symbolic interactionism play their role in this dichotomy of sociological thought.  Structural functionalism as expressed by Giddens plays a vital role in institutional analysis.

Giddens also states that social structure, “… the patterning of relationships between individuals or collectives can be best dealt with by the notion of system.  Social systems (and overall societies as encompassing types of social systems) consist of reproduced relationships between individuals and (or) collectives” (page 340).  Thus, Giddens defines succinctly the duality of structure as presented in micro and macro and further explained through action and institutional analysis.

Garfinkel states that social order is a challenge of social norms in which an individual has “presupposed knowledge of a social structure” (page 77) just as Goffman states in preference for ingrained mores of society, “ …it is to be noted that a given social front tends to become institutionalized in terms of the abstract stereotyped expectations to which it gives rise, and tends to take on a meaning and stability apart from the specific tasks which happen at the time to be performed in its name. The front becomes a “collective representation” and a fact in its own right”(page 4).  This is another comparison point between the authors; both state that social meaning hinges on the implicit understanding of the actors or collective society members the boundaries of cultural codes which have been ingrained in them through habit, repetition, etc.

Goffman’s dramaturgy is defined by comparing society and social intercourse related to actors performing on stage, “…ordinary social intercourse is itself put together as a scene is put together, by the exchange of dramatically inflated actions, counteractions, and terminating replies” (page 6).  The term anticipatory socialization is the cohesion between Goffman and Garfinkel for as Garfinkel states, “…a body of knowledge of social structures is somehow assembled.  Somehow, decisions of meaning, facts, method, and causal texture are made” (page 78).  This relevant as it reflects a person’s personal frame of reference.

Through frame of reference Garfinkel’s documentary method can be usefully employed and Goffman’s dramaturgy becomes viable.  Thus, the two sociologists become engrossed in interaction through predetermined sets of mores which are increasingly ingrained in an individual through the social drama of life.  Goffman goes on to define his dramaturgy through unmeant gestures, “…it was suggested that the performer must act with expressive responsibility, since; many minor, inadvertent acts happen to be well designed to convey impressions inappropriate at the time”  (page 11).   These unmeant gestures are further defined in Garfinkel’s methodology when he expresses the reactions of the subjects in finding out that they had been deceived of which the participants responded by being chagrined.

Garfinkel further states of social meaning through invisible theatre and every day life or realistic theatre, “References that the subject supplied were to social structures which he treated as actually or potentially known in common with the advisor.  And then not to any social structures known in common, but to normatively valued social structures which the subject accepted as conditions that his decisions, with respect to his own sensible and realistic grasp of his circumstances and the ‘good’ character of advisor’s advice had to satisfy” (page 93).

Thus, social meaning is centered around a predisposed frame of reference which is found, as Garfinkel states in common cultural norms.  These norms are further developed through Goffman’s dramaturgy in the fact that social members, or the collective react to each other in predetermined responses that have been sanctioned through social order has being the appropriate response to certain situations.


  1. Garfinkel, S.L.  Studies in Ethnomethodology.
  2. Goffman, Erving.  The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday, 1956, pp. 22-30, 70-76.

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Sociological Perspectives. (2016, Sep 28). Retrieved from

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