Erving Goffman – The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Before creating my processing installation I have researched into theories that I can use for my installation to explore and support. One that stands out to me is Erving Goffman’s ‘Presentation of self in everyday life’. It stands out because he explores themes that I have thought about for my project. My idea is to encourage performance from the people on the screen to exemplify how people act differently when they are seen publicly rather than private. Goffman suggests that a performer “implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them”. Here we can see that Goffman has picked up on the word “impression”, arguably those who are removed from their private selves and placed into the public will want to change the impression they make on those looking at them, so that the one performing can make a cool or good impression. This is an example of how people will change through performance. If someone is unaware they are in the public’s eye they will not attempt to act a certain way in order to impress. Goffman argues that “the individual effectively projects definition of the situation when he enters the presence of others”. The idea of “entering the presence of others” is the part which encourages a change in a persons performance. Some may argue that those who are performing in the “presence of others” are doing so to meet the needs of those around them. Arguably people change their attitude, vocabulary, humour and posture depend who they are in the “presence” of. Here we can see that this is, as Goffman puts it, a “front”. A “front” is a easily changeable performance to that varies to meet the needs of the audience or situation that particular person is in. Goffman suggests that the performer “may wish them
to think highly” of them, yet example of how people change the way they act/perform in oder to gain status or recognition of others.

Here we can see an idea that will be explored further and represented in my installation. By pixelating/blurring the majority of people on the screen, those who aren’t pixelated become public as they are the only ones fully recognisable on the screen. Thus, they will perform in order to make an “impression” on those who are pixelated/blurred. They will arguably put on a “front” or maybe, simply attempt to blend in with everyone else. Although this idea of wanting to blend in rather than performing to create an “impression” seems like less of an act, the person attempting to blend in still has to act/perform differently in order to become one of the collective pixelated people.

Goffman also touches on the idea that “others, however passive their role may seem to be, will themselves effectively project a definition of the situation” so those who are pixelated/blurred may act differently in oder to discover why they are, in fact, pixelated. Therefore, we can see that both those who are pixelated and not pixelated will instigate some sort of performance. Concluding this research it has become clear to me that not only those who I want to encourage performance upon will do so, but also those who are pixelated.


Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Erving Goffman – The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life