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Are emotions the result of impression management

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4796 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Goffman considers emotions to be results of impression management, ways in which people present positive impressions of themselves in an attempt to avoid embarrassment during interactions. Goffman also argues that impression management involves effort and energy on the part of the individual performing in a social situation. Hochschild expanded on Goffman’s ideas, considering a deeper meaning of emotions, examining how these link to social interaction, how individuals work to express emotions, and how emotions are expressed in certain situations.

Goffman 4

According to Goffman, when an individual interacts with other people, that individual will try to control or regulate the impression that others might make of the individual by changing or fixing ones setting, appearance and behavior. Similarly, the people that the individual is interacting with are trying to conceive and obtain information about the individual. All participants in interaction engage in certain practices to avoid being embarrassed or humiliating others. This led to Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis, in which Goffman saw a connection between the acts that people put on in their daily life and theatrical performances.

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The original motivation for Goffman’s dramaturgical sociology derives from the play writer William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:272). Goffman saw all human interaction as a grand play. Goffman was concerned with the daily life interactions between individuals that are often taken together. For Goffman, the subject matter of dramaturgical sociology is the creation, maintenance, and destruction of socially accepted understandings of reality by individuals working independently and collectively to present a shared and unified vision of that reality (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:272).

Goffman’s book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) compares everyday interactions to the theater (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:272). In a play, actors try to convey to an audience a certain impression of the world around them (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:272). Goffman is arguing here that the self arises in the very process of performance (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:273). Thus, Goffman is not concerned with the individual but the “team” interacting with each other (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:273). Goffman is concerned with how individuals collaborate to develop effective impressions of reality; this collaboration reveals a complex system of interactions that, which is like a play (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:273).

Goffman uses the theater analogy to explain how people convince other people to accept a particular social setting. It takes collaborative effort to present a compelling performance, complete with roles, scripts, costumes, and a stage (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:273). When all these are employed, individuals successfully create a coherent picture of reality to the audience (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:273).

Additionally, Goffman “sensed the potential for alienation brought about because of the problems of authentically embracing a role rather than feeling a certain way ambivalence or distance from it” (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:272). This alienation is also essential to Goffman’s analysis.

Drama 1

Goffman considered individuals to behave in a way that is attributed to be a produce of society and not of the individual persons. Individuals are in a constant performance in order to be seen in a socially acceptable way. According to Goffman, the self is a produce of an interaction and not a product of the individual. When individuals interact, they try to present a certain image of their self. Therefore, a crucial part of Goffman’s dramaturgical metaphor is the role (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:274). The role is a perception that individuals portray to the world. The image portrayed is not the real self, but rather a character that one possesses in order to make his role believable to individuals in society.

Perhaps the most obvious means of getting an audience to understand a role is with a script (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:276). Additionally, Goffman claims that scripts are necessary to interpersonal interaction (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:276). Goffman argues that the self creates different situational identities in which people act out certain social roles. Individuals follow a script in their daily interaction performances, which is based on how individuals perceive themselves and others. Scripts are forms of ritualized conversations that are necessary in everyday interpersonal interaction.

An aspect that is critical to actors is the impact of their costumes (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:278). Costumes are the first theoretical tool that an individual notices and uses to determine an individual’s role. An actor’s wardrobe is a key indicator for the audience to get an idea about what role the actor is portraying. Similarly, an individual’s wardrobe will be a significant impression to the group.

The other essential implement the actor can use to control audience reaction is the stage, and it is setting (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:279). Stages help the character retain their image so that the image the individual conveys becomes reality to the group that the individual is interacting with. Another advantage of stages that are common in many social interactions is the distinction between front and back stages (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:280).

The front stage is what the audience sees. The actor that is acting in the front stage is not portraying their true self, but rather a false impression that is used to convince the audience that what they are viewing is real. The back stage is a place where all the activities necessary for maintaining the performance on the main stage will occur (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:280). Backstage regions have two essential purposes, both related to the maintenance of the appropriate role or tone on the front stage (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:280). The back stage serves as a storage for physical items that cannot be seen on the front stage, and it also provides actors with a place to regroup and take care of their emotional needs (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:280). Thus, backstage stage provides the actors with a place to be themselves and get rid of their role.

Impression Management and Sincerity 1

The front and backstage provides the necessary tools for the manipulating the public perceptions of reality (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:282). Combined with scripts, props, and costumes, they allow teams a vast amount of control over the impression of reality they are conveying to the audience (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:282). Goffman is concerned with more than the process of manipulating the audience; he is also concerned with the effects of manipulation on the actor. By projecting a certain perception of reality, manipulation can lead to insincerity on the part of the actor. “Goffman is very interested in how this insincerity comes about, what actors do to prevent it, and what happens if they are unsuccessful in the attempt to deal with insincerity” (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:282). Goffman is interested in the psychological and behavior problems caused presenting ones role, which by be different form oneself (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:282).

Whenever actors assume a role, they must take a position on their belief in the role, meaning that they must decide whether they belief in their own performance (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:283). When an individual does not belief in their own performance, then they are referred to as cynical, on the contrary, individuals who believe in their own performance are referred to as sincere (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:283).

Obviously, it is easier to present a compelling performance if one is relatively sincere about one’s performance (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:283). The near-universal desire not to do so suggests that people are not comfortable with an immense amount of cynicism about the role that they are presenting (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:285). Individuals would prefer not to establish and maintain what Goffman calls “role distance,” which means that they dissociate themselves from, rather than willingly embrace, the role (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:285). Thus, conflicting roles in an individual’s life may cause distinct problems because the demands of one role may be incompatible with the demands of other roles (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:285). There are various ways to attempt to merge different roles, which include joking or including other parts of conflicting roles in a situation (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:285).

Conflicting Role Expectations

Conflict arises in a work situation when employees are forces into various roles. Another conflict arises when it becomes difficult to reconcile demands for service and speed (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:288). A revealing example is provided by flight attendants, who found in the 1970s that, due to an industry wide speed-up, they were forced to give the same amount of emotional labor in significantly less time (Hochschild 1983:122) (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:288).

The demands of a company, whether for speed or raw sales, sometimes are simply incompatible with the roles it compels individuals to adopt (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:288). When role distancing occurs, it might seem logical for people to recognize the conflicting nature of their situation and attempt to reconcile their discrepant roles (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:288). It is often exceedingly difficult, however, for employees to understand that their problems are caused by the fundamental inconsistencies in the roles they are expected to adopt by the company. Rather, individuals tend to blame themselves, assuming that the problem is not that roles or role expectations are incompatible, but that they are somehow “not good enough” to live up to their assigned roles (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:288).

“Real” Selves in a Commodified World

Role distancing thus tends to become progressively worse as time goes on and more inauthentic roles are not fulfilled (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:289). It is difficult to resolve distancing ones role from a conflicting role at an organization without fundamentally changing the definition of either the self or situation that one wants to convey, due to the very nature of role conflict (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:289). The alienated individual must either quit the job that is causing the role problems or somehow learn to deal with the conflict, “either by becoming highly cynical or somehow changing the personal roles that are thought of as constituting the real self” (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:289). 

At a certain point, work roles will almost certainly collide with the non-work roles (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:289-90). When this happens, individuals have a wide range of options, but ultimately none of them is likely to resolve the conflict; the best solution, in many cases, is to do what Goffman calls acting, by using the tools of the stage (Kivisto and Pittman 2007:289-90).

Hochschild 4

Emotion-management perspective can be used to examine the self, interaction, and structure (Hochschild 1979:551). The emotion-manage perspective contends that people try or try not to manage the way they feel depending on a situation, which is similar to the interactive interpretation of emotion. Under the interactive perspective, social factors affect how emotions are expressed. Consequently, emotions are subjected to the influences of norms and situations.

According to Hochschild, social psychology has suffered under the assumption that emotion was viewed as uncontrollable, and not governed by social rules (1979:551). “Social rules govern how people try to or try not to feel in ways appropriate to the situation” (Hochschild 1979:551). Individuals determine the proper way to feel by comparing previous situations and assigning certain emotions to specific situations. The previous feeling in specific situations become socially established, and opposing feeling are deemed avoidable.

Hochschild argues that emotions are social and can act as symbols that are commonly accepted by society and form the way that individuals manage and express themselves in social interaction. Through childhood socialization, each of us learns what are proper expressions of emotions and feeling. It is through continuous socialization and interaction with others that one adjusts their emotions and feelings, alter how one expresses their feelings, and then revise and adjust their emotions and feelings.

One’s ability to manage emotions is based on the expectations of others and the expectations others have towards each other, and these can be mutually understood because these are based on earlier experiences. In the interaction perspective, an individual’s emotions become part of the social self and are used as means that we use to interpret and develop appropriate responses.

Hochschild extends the analysis of emotions than merely the shame and embarrassment noted by Goffman. Hochschild examined the outward signs of emotional response and work and she also examines the inner emotions of the self. However, Hochschild is interested in more than presentation of self, which is in Goffman’s dramaturgical approach, she is concerned with how people try to feel rather than how people try to appear to feel.

Emotion work

Emotion work “is the act of trying to change in degree or quality an emotion or feeling” (Hochschild 1979:561). Emotion work is based on the act and not on the outcome of a situation. When working on an emotion, this means managing an emotion or doing deep acting. Emotion work is the act of trying to convey a certain emotion; however, the outcome of the emotion may not always be successful. There are two fundamental types of emotion work: evocation and suppress (Hochschild 1979: 561). Evocation entails that there is a conscious effort of individuals to desire a feeling, which they do not possess. Suppression entails that there is a conscious effort of individuals to conceal an undesired feeling. Additionally, Hochschild acknowledges that, “emotion work can be done by the self upon the self, by the self upon others, and by others upon oneself” (Hochschild 1979:562). Individuals are aware of their effort to distinguish between “what one feel and what one wants to feel,” which is referred to as a moment of pinch (Hochschild 1979:562). The pinch in the moment that an individual experiences inconsistency between the “ought” to feel and “does” feel.

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There are three techniques that enable emotion work: cognitive, bodily, and expressive (Hochschild 1979:562). Cognitive involves trying to change images, ideas, or thoughts in hopes of changing the feelings associated with a certain situation. This implies changing, or reclassifying, a situation into a manner that will provide an individual to feel differently about the situation. The second approach is bodily, which involved trying to change physical indicators of emotion. The last technique, expressive, entails trying to change expressive signals in an attempt to change inner feelings. These techniques do not simply attempt to change outward appearances, but inner feelings. Often individuals become aware of their emotion work when the situation calls for it. For instance, when an individuals feeling does not match the situation and its framework.

Feeling rules

“The social guidelines that direct how we want to try to feel may be describable as a set of socially shared, albeit often latent (not thought about unless probed at), rules” (Hochschild 1979:563). There are a myriad of evidence for feeling rules. In instance, rights and duties are considered as examples of feeling rules. For example, an individual may indicate that themselves, or others, have a right or duty to feel a certain way. These rules, rights and duties, determine the extend to which one feels (too happy, or not happy enough), the direction one feels (feeling sad when one should feel happy), and the duration of a feeling (how long one should feel a certain feeling) (Hochschild 1979:564). Similarly, there are certain expectations as to how one should feel. According to Hochschild, we invest what we expect to feel with idealization, which varies socially (1979:565). Example. According to Hochschild, it comes down to motivation (“what I want to feel”) to mediate between feeling rules (“what I should feel”) and emotion work (“what I try to feel”) (1979:565). So the moment an individual attempt to pinch, the moment of dissonance a person experiences between what one feels and what one wants to or should feel, is an evidence as to there being socially shared rules regarding feelings.

Framing rules and feeling rules: issues in ideology

Framing rules are “rules according to which we ascribe definitions or meanings to situations” (Hochschild 1979:566). When an ideology changes, it only makes sense that an individual drops old rules and adopts new one when reacting emotionally to situations, additionally rights and duties also change. For example, because of the feminist movement, women were able to become angry over abuse at work or not be ostracized for being married or have children. On the contrary, one can disregard an ideological stance by maintaining an alternate frame on a situation, maintaining alternate feelings, rights and obligations, and refusing to perform the emotion management (Hochschild 1997:567). As ideological stances change, their set of feeling rules either gains strength or diminishes within society. Each instance contends to form a government standard in the people’s understanding, in which to compare the situation too, which in part also changes the framing rules to a given situation (Hochschild 1979:567). They may lead to social unrest as there is a lack of clarity about the framing rules and there may be contradictions in the feeling rules.

Feeling rules and social exchange

There is a connection between the previously mentioned concepts emotion work, feeling rules, and ideology, which is social exchange. Hochschild refers “to exchange of acts of display based on a prior, shared understanding of patterned entitlement” (1979:568). There are two characteristics to of exchanges of gestures: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting is the exchange of display acts. On the other hand, deep acting is the exchange of emotion work.

There are two ways that feeling rules can be utilized in social exchange. The first is when an “individual takes the owed feeling to heart, takes it seriously” (Hochschild 1997:568). The second is when an individual does not presume the feeling rules seriously, but rather fools around with them.

Commoditization of feeling

Feeling rules vary by social class, in great part because of the commoditization of feelings. Commoditization of feelings is, “when deep gestures of exchange enter the market sector and are bought and sold as an aspect of labor power, feelings are commoditized” (Hochschild 1979:569). Thus, jobs in the service sector, usually reserved for the middle class, require employees to use their deep acting on the job.

Emotion Labor

Hochschild extends the analysis of emotion work further when she introduces the concept of the management of emotions by institutions or organizations in the labor market. This occurs when individuals within an institutions when elements of acting are taken away from the individual and replaced by institutional acting. While some aspects of emotion labor are unavoidable in any institutions, what is more alarming some institutions suggest how individuals should imagine themselves and thus how to feel, deep acting. This is similar to Marx’s approach of alienation of individuals from the product that they are producing in the service sector.

When emotion work is commoditized, offered for sale or as part of a service, Hochschild refers to this as emotion labor. That is, employees are required to provide some expressions as part of the sale provided to the public. “Emotional labor is the display of expected emotions by service agents during service encounters” (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:88). This performance can be accomplished through surface acting or deep acting. Emotional labor may cause emotive dissonance and self-alienation. However, following social identity theory, Ashforth and Humphrey argue that “some effects of emotional labor are moderated by one’s social and personal identities and that emotional labor stimulates pressures for the person to identify with the service role” (1993:88). Thus, Hochschild argues that emotional labor, the act of expressing socially desired emotions during service transactions, which may cause psychological effects among the individuals (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:89).

Jobs requiring emotional labor have three aspects to them. First, there is face-to-face interaction with customers. Second, the employee is required to produce a particular emotional state. Third, the employer exercises some control over an employee’s emotional state. In some cases, this begins to modify the existing emotions of the employee. This happens through “emotive dissonance” whereby strains emerge between what the employee actually feels and emotion labor, what feelings the employee is to present to the public. The employee may begin to change what he or she feels in order to coincide with the emotion labor.

Such management of feeling falls disproportionately on women more than men. Such management is also more common in middle-class than working-class jobs. Furthermore, middle-class parents groom their children for emotion management and labor more than working class parents do with their children.

In doing emotion labor, the employee loses a certain amount of control over how they feel; there are several responses to this lose of emotional control. The individual may become separated from their real self, and the individual may begins to question, which is their real self. The individual may use different coping strategies in order to cope with the emotive dissonance that may occur, by using drugs or alcohol or develop ways of psyching oneself up for the job. An individual may make the two selves one through strong identification with the job and company. Deep acting can be used as a means of dealing with these situations, whereby employees can differentiate their own self from the self presented in work, but where both role are able to coexist. However, each of these approaches can become dangerous to the employee resulting in physiological consequences.

Deep and Surface 3

Hochschild argued that an employee in the service sector performs emotional labor in one of two ways: surface acting and deep acting (Hochschild 1979:?). Hochschild agues that people actively manipulate their emotions to match feeling rules. Following Goffman, Hochschild labels efforts to manipulate emotions through impression management called surface acting. Surface acting involves invoking emotions that are not actually felt, which is accomplished by the “presentation of verbal and nonverbal cues, such as facial expression, gestures, and voice tone” (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:92). Similarly, an employee may act in accordance with feeling rules through surface acting. Consequently, the employee conjures up emotions that are not experienced. For example, Hochschild writes about a flight attendant discussed how she would prevent panic during a crisis, despite her own anxiety:

“Even though I’m a very honest person, I have learned not to allow my face to mirror my alarm or my fright. I feel very protective of my passengers … my voice might quiver a little during the announcements, but somehow I feel we could get them to believe … the best” (Hochschild, 1983: 107).

The flight attendant uses surface acting to display an emotion of calmness, which she does not actually feel. The use of surface acting does not imply that the employee experiences no emotion; it implies that the displayed emotions differ from the felt emotions (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:92). Discrepancies between what feels and what one should feel may occur because various factors hinder an employee from feeling the emotions that he or she wishes to present. This situation contrasts with other cases of surface acting wherein the agent is not particularly concerned with the success of his or her customers, such as when a salesperson mechanically greets a customer (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:92). This idea is akin to Rafaeli and Sutton’s (1987: 32) distinction between “faking in good faith” and “faking in bad faith” (1987:32). Surface acting is the acting that is discussed in Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis of everyday encounters, impression management.

The second method of complying with feeling rules is through deep acting, where an individual attempts to experience or feel the emotions that one wishes to present regardless of feeling rules. In much the same way that actors “psyche themselves” for a role, an employee psyches himself or herself into experiencing the desired emotion (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:93). Feelings are actively induced, suppressed, or shaped. Surface acting focuses directly on one’s outward behavior; deep acting focuses directly on one’s inner feelings. Thus, this latter type of emotional labor extends the conventional notion of impression management as the direct manipulation of behavior: In deep acting, behavioral change is an indirect effect. Surface acting is compatible with either a strong or weak concern for one’s customers. Given the greater psychic effort involved in deep acting, it appears that this type of emotional labor is also consistent with a strong concern for one’s customers (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:93). Finally, the concepts of surface and deep acting refer to the effort or act of trying to display the appropriate emotion, not to the outcomes-that is, the quality of the effort (how genuine the emotion appears) and the effects this effort has on the target audience (Hochschild 1979:?). Similarly as the performances of professional actors vary in quality, so too does the quality of emotional labor vary across employees and particular situations (Ashforth and Humphrey 1993:93).

Role and Identity


Introduction 1


Emotions “are labeled, assessed, and managed through and by interaction” (Adler, Alder, and Fontana 1987:225). Additionally, structural and cultural factors influence the feeling and interpretation of various emotions individuals have in specific situations. (Adler, Alder, and Fontana 1987:225). Goffman discusses the relationship between situations and institutions and proposed that emotions are determined by the rules and micro acts that comprise situations. (Adler, Alder, and Fontana 1987:225). Goffman’s work address both roles (the nature of the self) and rules (micro-social norms) (Adler, Alder, and Fontana 1987:220). Hence, actors intentionally and manipulatively role-play for the purpose of managing others’ impressions of them. This occurs through the interactions in everyday life; consequently, these interactions influence the individual’s inner self by externally imprinting their rules on him or her at the same time they ensure the self-regulatory role of society (Adler, Alder, and Fontana 1987:220). Hochschild discussed the types of “feeling rules” which are structurally mandated onto interactions and relationships through social guidelines. People then try to make their feelings coincide with these rules by doing cognitive, bodily, or expressive “emotions work.” Emotion work can become commercialized when it is co-opted by business, leading to a “commoditization of feeling” (Adler, Alder, and Fontana 1987:225).


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