If You Have Nothing to Hide, You Have Everything to Worry about: A Sociologically-Informed Account of Why N.S.A. Spying Matters
Tags: corporations, crime/law/deviance, foucault, goffman, government/the state, science/technology, theory, back stage, edward snowden, glenn greenwald, mass surveillance, n.s.a., panopticon, surveillance state, 00 to 05 mins, 11 to 20 mins, 21 to 60 mins
Year: clip 1: 2013 | clip 2: 2014
Length: clip 1: 20:41 | clip 2: 5:38
Access: YouTube: clip 1: TED Talks
clip 2: New York Times
Summary: Taken together, the above two clips make three distinct points about why we should all take the unfolding revelations about N.S.A. surveillance very seriously, and the clips can be used to kick off a sociologically-informed discussion about the surveillance state and it's practice of mass surveillance. 1) In the first clip, journalist Glenn Greenwald delivers a TED Talk where he argues against the claim that only criminals have something to hide. People should take the N.S.A. revelations seriously because everyone has something to hide, even those of us who believe ourselves to be innocent of all crimes. After all, people routinely lock their bathroom doors and use passwords to access their email. To borrow a page from sociologist Erving Goffman, people all have a back stage. 2) In the second clip, journalist David Sirota argues we should take state surveillance seriously because the fact is, we are all criminals. That is, there are so many statutes on the books that virtually anyone could be found guilty of a crime. Chances are that even those who loudly profess they have nothing to hide have unknowingly committed crimes, and as the amount of data being collected and saved increases, the state stores aways more and more opportunities to charge any given citizen of a crime should it prove politically expedient to do so. 3) Finally, Greenwald alludes to a long standing observation in sociology that surveillance changes people; it controls them, even if charges of a crime never materialize and no formal interaction with the criminal justice system occurs. People drastically, if unknowingly, alter their behavior when they suspect they are being watched. No where is this reality more vividly illustrated than in what philosopher Jeremy Bentham described as a panopticon, a prison tower that offers a vantage point from which a guard can see all prisoners in their cells, but does not offer any single prisoner the ability to know whether he or she is being observed. Bentham imagined it as a means of controlling prisoners, but subsequent thinkers—namely Michel Foucault—have used the idea of a panopticon as a metaphor to describe the distinct way in which modern states exercise power and control. The prison tower is now the speed camera inconspicuously perched atop a traffic light; it's also the tablet that tracks it's user's browsing history. This architecture, which claims to exist for the purpose of reducing criminal behavior, is already also changing non-criminal behavior as well. Consider the journalistic practice of offering sources anonymity. As the surveillance state becomes ever more bold, the ability to promise such anonymity slips away, and some would argue, so too does an important check on government power (Note: The Sociological Cinema has explored the topic of the surveillance state here, here, and here, and we maintain a Pinterest board on the topic).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: emotion/desire, goffman, theory, defining the situation, harold garfinkel, impression management, norms, scripts, social interaction, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: When teaching about Harold Garfinkel and Erving Goffman, I have students analyze this speed-dating video in small groups by asking them what Garfinkel and Goffman would each have to say about the interaction depicted in the video. Then, as a class, we discuss how the video provides a good example of the unstated rules of social interaction described by Garfinkel and Goffman. Both people in the video clearly come to the interaction with shared expectations for what happens on a speed-date, and they successfully manage the interaction by taking turns in conversation, flirting, and the other sorts of things meant to happen in this particular situational template. Then, we watch the video clip from Dave Chappelle, "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong." Here, students can see the consequences of breaking social rules of interaction (Dave Chappelle’s character gets fired after a workplace outburst), and we also discuss the limitations of the structuralist paradigm. To help students with this latter task, I ask the following kinds of questions: (1) Does it seem like everyone in the group came to the meeting with shared expectations about what would happen there? (2) Does “give me some skin” mean the same thing to Dave Chappelle’s character as it does to his mentor? (3) What emotion does Goffman tell us that people usually feel after they break social rules or lose face? Does Dave Chappelle’s character appear to be feeling this emotion? What does he appear to be feeling? Why? (4) Is there value in breaking with expected rules of social interaction? These videos were originally suggested for classroom use by students as part of my larger effort to incorporate student-generated content into my courses. See more here. (Note: A version of this post originally appeared on tracyperkins.org.)
Submitted By: Tracy Perkins
Kanye West Goes Off Script
Meyers tries to manage the situation when West goes off script.
Tags: goffman, theory, dramaturgical approach, impression management, scripts, social interaction, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Sociologist Erving Goffman is famous for theorizing social interactions from a dramaturlogical approach. Using the metaphor of a theatrical performance and deploying dramaturlogical concepts for support, Goffman argued that, when human beings interact, each person desires to manage the impressions that others receive of them; social actors do this by putting on a "show" for others. Goffman believed that social actors are especially motivated to engage in certain social practices so as to avoid embarrassment, either of themselves or others. To carry out this impression management, interactants, either by themselves or in groups, give "performances" during which they enact "parts," "roles," or "routines," and they make use of a "setting," "props," and "costumes." Goffman's analysis of "front stage" and "back stage" carries this metaphor further, as he pointed to the different rules and expected behaviors, or scripts, that social actors follow when performing in the front region of a scene versus when they are back stage, hidden from an audience. This clip of rapper Kanye West and actor Mike Meyers can be used to illustrate Goffman's concept of social scripts and, more specifically, what happens when social actors go "off script." The clip is from the fundraiser A Concert for Hurricane Relief, a live televised event organized in September 2005 to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. West and Meyers have a teleprompted script from which to read, in which they are to relay the extent of the disaster and provide information about the Red Cross's efforts to address the devastation. After Meyers reads his introductory script, West takes a sharp turn and goes completely off script, not only deviating from the teleprompted script, but also going off his social script by delivering a very public (i.e., front stage) and biting critique against the mainstream media's portrayal of the predominantly poor African Americans most devastated by Katrina, and also against then-President George W. Bush for failing to address the needs of this marginalized and vulnerable community. As Goffman predicted, when one social interactant goes off script, the opportunity for embarrassment is heightened. Meyers tries to manage the situation—though he is clearly uncomfortable as he fidgets his body—by continuing to read the teleprompter as though the social interaction is moving along smoothly. West does not follow the rules of social interaction, as he gives Meyers little assistance, and in fact creates more tension with his explicit accusation: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Since the event, West has been both harshly criticized and enthusiastically applauded for his decision to go off script. Viewers can be encouraged to consider the implications of going off script. In his essay, "What Can We Do? Becoming Part of the Solution," Allan Johnson identifies going off script as one way to enact social change. Though often scary to do so (indeed, West's nervousness is palpable), Johnson argues that deviating from pre-determined scripts or, "paths of least resistance," is one way we can break from the status quo and routines that foster inequality.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Reverend Dr. William J. Barber
Tags: crime/law/deviance, discourse/language, goffman, government/the state, inequality, knowledge, lgbtq, prejudice/discrimination, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, civil unions, collective action frames, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In previous posts on The Sociological Cinema, we have explored Erving Goffman's concept of framing (here, here, and here). To recap, the concept has been useful for scholars of social movements, who have rebranded the term collective action framing. The concept denotes the active and processual sense-making and signification of phenomena done by social actors. In other words, the realization that a conflict with police is evidence of a repressive state and that the passage of a new law is an effort to codify division and discrimination are socially "made" interpretations or meanings. They are the social achievements sociologists refer to as frames. The success then of passing a new law or amending an old one often hinges on how the proposed change is framed for the public and how influential that particular frame is in shaping the terms of the debate. The above clip is a speech from Reverend Dr. William J. Barber. who rebukes the media for using the "wrong" frame to report on the recent amendment to North Carolina's state constitution, which passed on May 8, 2012 and defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The amendment also bans any other type of "domestic legal union," such as civil unions and domestic partnerships. Barber asserts that the media frequently polled the public asking, "How do you feel about same-sex marriage?" but a better question—a better frame—would have been whether a majority should be able to decide on the rights of a minority, or should discrimination should be written into the constitution? Here Barber is clearly attempting to key the struggle against Amendment One to the protests of the Civil Rights Era, and he even mentions the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by name. In Part II, we'll move beyond framing and explore how this video can be used to illustrate insights from intersectionality theory, a theory that offers promise in overcoming the divisions of identity politics.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
When "Keeping it Real" Goes Wrong
Tags: goffman, psychology/social psychology, social construction, theory, face, impression management, interaction order, self, 00 to 05 mins
Access: Comedy Central
Summary: One of the most difficult aspects of Ervin Goffman’s face to understand is the concept’s multifaceted nature. Face is both ‘something we are in’ during social interactions as we conform to social roles, identities and practices; but simultaneously face is also ‘something that can be gained and lost’ through our impression management. To overcome this difficulty, Dave Chappelle’s ‘When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong’ can be used to highlight the multifaceted nature of Goffman’s concept. In this video, Vernon Franklin feels a colleague violated the rules of the interaction order by being insensitive, thus creating a social situation where the two facets of face conflict with each other. Vernon is forced to choose between ignoring an insensitive comment and maintaining face as afforded to him by his colleagues because he abides by the rules of the interaction order; or challenging his offensive colleague and save the face he claims for himself through his personal pride and dignity. Vernon chose the former by leaving face and “keeping it real;” or he abandons the line others expect him to play to maintain a positive self-perception of his own self. Because of his own violation of interaction order, he ends up first losing face as afforded to him by others when he is fired from his high paying job and then the face he is able to claim for himself as he is relegated to the occupational role of a poorly paid car wash employee.
Submitted By: Jason T. Eastman
Violinist Joshua Bell performing in a subway station.
Tags: art/music, class, goffman, methodology/statistics, theory, defining the situation, pierre bourdieu, social experiment, taste, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video footage depicts a young man playing a violin in a Washington, DC Metro station during the heart of the morning rush hour. Unbeknownst to passersby, the musician is the world renowned Joshua Bell, playing one of the most difficult pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. In total, Bell played for about 45 minutes to about 1,100 people moving through the station. During this time, only a handful stopped to listen; he collected $32. Organized by the Washington Post, this social experiment was designed to broach questions around perception, beauty, and priorities; however, it can also be used to teach sociological concepts, such as Erving Goffman's theory of defining the situation and Pierre Bourdieu's theory of taste. Goffman argues that when individuals encounter one another, they (consciously or not) seek out information about the other so as to define the nature of the interaction. Morning commuters use the information around them to define the interaction between themselves and the violinist, including the fact that the musician is playing in a subway station, wearing everyday street clothes, standing beside an open violin case occupied by loose bills and change. Despite Bell's talent and professional status, given this information, the majority of commuters define the situation as an amateur musician playing for money, and they ignore him. Had the situation been defined with a sign that identified the world famous violinist playing an impromptu public concert, presumably more commuters would have stopped to listen. This latter point also speaks to Bourdieu's theory of taste, in which Bourdieu rejects a pure or genuine conception of aesthetics and instead argues that "good taste" is simply a reflection of the taste of the ruling class, demarcated by ruling class signifiers. Given that Bell is in a non-elite space, wearing non-elite clothing, playing for a non-elite audience, commuters are unable to recognize the highly skilled nature of the art. This demonstrates how good taste can be understood as a social (and Bourdieu would say classed) phenomenon, rather than an objective truth. This clip is one of several featured on The Sociological Cinema that illustrates social experiments, including experiments on racial bias, the Milgram experiment, and breaching experiments at Grand Central Station and on a college campus.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Symbolic Interaction on Seinfeld
Tags: goffman, psychology/social psychology, theory, backstage, corrective practice, defensive practice, definition of the situation, dramaturgical discipline, front stage, impression management, interaction repair, protective practice, roles, symbolic interactionism, working consensus, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Clips from Seinfeld seem to be full of interesting insights about human interaction. Economists have been using Seinfeld clips to illustrate insights from rational choice theory, and here at last is a clip that demonstrates concepts from the symbolic interactionist perspective in sociology. In this clip from season 5, episode 10, "The Cigar Store Indian," Elaine and some other women are playing poker when Jerry shows up. He enters from the "outside," and it quickly becomes apparent he does not completely share the women's definition of the situation. The role he tries to enact (i.e., friend, comedian, potential lover) is completely bungled once he unwraps his gift of a cigar store Indian for Winona, who is Native American. Elaine tries to protect Jerry to no avail and attempts an interaction repair with her friend, Winona, but Jerry's errors are too great to overcome. The scene is a vivid illustration of what Goffman called a break down in his essay, "Embarrassment and Social Organization." Other useful scenes come from the episodes, "The Barber," "The Raincoats," and "The Lip Reader," all of which feature examples of disruption, embarrassment, and break down.
Submitted By: Caitlin Cross-Barnet
_Tags: commodification, emotion/desire, goffman, theory, arlie hochschild, back stage, dramaturgy, emotional labor, front stage, impression management, presentation of self, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: [Trigger warning: this clip includes explicit language] Waiting is a movie about a day in the life of workers at a casual dining restaurant. This clip can be used to highlight a number of concepts related to Erving Goffman's dramaturgical perspective. For example, in order to avoid disruption and with hopes of getting a bigger tip, the wait staff go to great lengths to manage the impressions that customers have of them. These "front stage" performances are, however, quite different from the "back stage" interactions between the wait staff and cooks. In a separate vein, the clip also highlights Arlie Hochschild's concept of "emotional labor," a concept which she develops in her book The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Feeling. One can see in the clip how the wait staff must go to great lengths to maintain pleasant appearances in the face of rude and unruly customers.
Submitted By: Derek Evans (@Dee_Wreck)
Facework During a Live Newscast Blunder
Tags: goffman, theory, dramaturgy, facework, impression management, performance, self-presentation, social interaction, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The intended content from this BBC video is not nearly as interesting as the social interaction that takes place during the segment. The anchor and the audience believed the interviewee was Guy Kewney, the editor of a technology website News Wireless; however, due to a mix up back stage, a man named Guy Goma was rushed onto the set for the interview (Goma was in fact in the BBC studios awaiting an interview with the accounting department). The video shows Goma's look of surprise when he realizes he is not the person that is supposed to be interviewed. The clip addresses several features of Goffman’s (1973) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life with a focus on impression management. During this formal television interview, Goffman’s notion of the ‘front’ is seen here as ‘institutionalised’ and with ‘stereotyped expectations’ (Goffman 1973). In this 'scene,' the anchor and interviewee face each other to ensure they are seen as engaging with each other, but also in order to present themselves to the television audience. The backdrop features several computers and people working to put forward an image of the busy newsroom. Goffman would refer to Goma's shocked facial expression as an example of being ‘out of face.’ Goma does not know how to act, given that he does not have the appropriate knowledge and is not the person he is taken to be; however, to prevent disruption during this live broadcast, the respondent and anchor ‘maintain face,’ by attempting to carry on with their respective roles as interviewer and interviewee, as if nothing disruptive has happened (Goffman 1967). The rest of the interview illustrates what Goffman refers to as ‘the arts of impression management,’ (Goffman 1973) where both the anchor and interviewee take on ‘dramaturgical loyalty.’ They take it as their ‘moral obligation’ to continue in a formal manner. They can both be described as deploying ‘dramaturgical discipline’ by ‘maintaining face’ and managing their ‘fronts,’ so that they are both seen to be as professional characters their audience expects them to be.
Submitted By: Jessica Lee and Michelle MacDonagh
Tags: gender, goffman, marriage/family, theory, motherhood, role expectations, role conflict, social status, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Anita Renfroe uses music and comedy to present a day in the life of a mom. “Momsense” (also called “Momisms”), set to the William Tell Overture, is her rendition of the many conversations between mothers and their children. This short clip works well as an introduction to social status, social roles, and role expectations. It also illustrates the scripts of mothers (Goffman’s dramaturgy). Before the clip is shown, ask students to identify the role expectations of mothers. After the clip, discuss which phrases (or scripts) were familiar to them and illustrated various role expectations. Here, instructors can move to a discussion about such things as: 1) role strain, or the difficulty of competing demands of motherhood; 2) role conflict, or the difficulty that mothers face in balancing work and family; and 3) status, including privileges extended to mothers because of their position in society. Another interesting discussion could focus on gender role expectations of fathers (Renfroe created a similar rendition called “Dadsense”, with the only words being “go ask your mom”). Students can explore Kimmel’s idea of multiple masculinities and a broadening idea of gender roles. An instructor might even pose the question, do students think that their generation will become more accepting of the nurturing and caregiving role of fathers?
Submitted By: Cindy Wasberg
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