George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman have a great influence on our understanding of sociology today. Both theorists discussed the origin of individual identity by focusing on the impacts of interaction with other people in society (Brym, 2017). Due to these inherent similarities in their studies, the concept of symbolic interactions has emerged. However, they both have many differences as well with regards to their description of the constitution and the reproduction of the human identity called ‘self’. The following report highlights these similarities and differences in detail.
Comparison of George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman
According to Mead, we are not born with “self” but it developed during our childhood when we interact with others in society (Sacks & Baldwin, 1988). Furthermore, he argues that the self consists of an “I” which is the view of someone towards himself, and a “me” which is the view of someone seen through the eyes of others in the society. These both parts i.e. “I” and “me” together decide the final action of someone as he states in Mind, Self, and Society (George Herbert Mead et al., 2015). Thus, for Mead self depends on the relationship of these parts which he later calls play stage and game stage.
However, Goffman takes another approach to explain the origin of the self. He argues that no one has a single true self rather we act like an actor while interacting with others depending upon our place, time, and situation (Adler et al., 1987). Thus, Goffman described self by linking it with the metaphor of actors in a theatre where people always manage themselves before, they come on the stage to perform a specific act. He calls this “backstage” preparation influenced by others in the society and a “front stage” performance when individuals act according to their role specified by the society (Edgley & Manning, 1994).
Thus, both theorists strongly agree that “others” in society have a great influence on our understanding of self because of symbolic interaction which is, in fact, the source of the constitution and development of the “self”. For Mead, this influence is observed during the “game stage” while Goffman uses “Performance” to highlight the impact of these interactions on our actions. Moreover, they both have similar thoughts about the constant development of “self” which is made up of multiple “me’s” or roles depending upon the situation.
Both Mead and Goffman have also explained different categories and dimensions of self that are still applicable to sociology, which all signify the role of social interactions in the construction and development of self. However, both theorists utilize different methodologies to explain this role resulting in different yet important ways of understanding our “self”. For instance, Goffman does not debate on the role of subjective “I” and “me” even though he does not divide himself into these two parts which is the main theme of Mead’s theory.
According to Goffman, both self and mind equate each other which he calls “a dramatic effect” that emerges when identity is performed. In this way, the self becomes the primary source of our different activities, beliefs, and ideas and plays an important role in our perception of social performance. This explanation of self is considerably different from Mead’s theory.
Theories of both George Mead and Erving Goffman present the model of individual identity in a different manner, however, they both signify the role of social interaction in the construction of self. “Who I am”, as argued by both of them, is the view of society about one’s self, i.e. “who they are”.
Adler, P. A., Adler, P., & Fontana, A. (1987). Everyday Life Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 13(1), 217–235. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.so.13.080187.001245
Brym, R. J. (2017). Sociology : your compass for a new world. Nelson Education Ltd.
Edgley, C., & Manning, P. (1994). Erving Goffman and Modern Sociology. Social Forces, 73(2), 766. https://doi.org/10.2307/2579833
George Herbert Mead, Morris, C. W., Huebner, D. R., & Joas, H. (2015). Mind, self, and society : the definitive edition. The University Of Chicago Press.
Sacks, H. L., & Baldwin, J. D. (1988). George Herbert Mead: A Unifying Theory for Sociology. Social Forces, 66(3), 874. https://doi.org/10.2307/2579600