Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York:
Doubleday, 1959, pp. 208-212.
THE ARTS OF IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT
In this chapter I would like to bring together what has been said
or implied about the attributes that are required of a performer
for the work of successfully staging a character. Brief reference
will therefore be made to some of the techniques of impression management
in which these attributes are expressed. In preparation it may be
well to suggest, in some cases for the second time, some of the
principal types of performance disruptions, for it is these disruptions
which the techniques of impression management function to avoid
the beginning of this report, in considering the general characteristics
of performances, 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.
These events were called "unmeant gestures." Ponsonby
gives an illustration of how a director's attempt to avoid an unmeant
gesture led to the occurrence of another.
of the Attaches from the Legation was to carry the cushion on which
the insignia were placed, and in order to prevent their falling
off I stuck the pin at the back of the Star through the velvet cushion.
The Attache, however, was not content with this, but secured the
end of the pin by the catch to make doubly sure. The result was
that when Prince Alexander, having made a suitable speech, tried
to get hold of the Star, he found it firmly fixed to the cushion
and spent some time in getting it loose. This rather spoilt the
most impressive moment of the ceremony. 
should be added that the individual held responsible for contributing
an unmeant gesture may chiefly discredit his own performance by
this, a teammate's performance, or the performance being staged
by his audience.
an outsider accidentally enters a region in which a performance
is being given, or when a member of the audience inadvertently enters
the backstage, the intruder is likely to catch those present flagrante
delicto. Through no one's intention, the persons present in the
region may find that they have patently been witnessed in activity
That is quite incompatible with the impression that they are, for
wider social reasons, under obligation to maintain to the intruder.
We deal here with what are sometimes called "inopportune intrusions."
past life and current round of activity of a given performer typically
contain at least a few facts which, if introduced during the performance,
would discredit or at least weaken the claims about self that the
performer was attempting to project as part of the definition of
the situation. These facts may involve well-kept dark secrets or
negative-valued characteristics that everyone can see but no one
refers to. When such facts are introduced, embarrassment is the
usual result. These facts can, of course, be brought to one's attention
by unmeant gestures or inopportune intrusions. However, they are
more frequently introduced by intentional verbal statements or non-verbal
acts whose full significance is not appreciated by the individual
who contributes them to the interaction. Following common usage,
such disruptions of projections may be called "faux pas."
Where a performer unthinkingly makes an intentional contribution
which destroys his own team's image we may speak of "gaffes"
or "boners." Where a performer jeopardizes the image of
self projected by the other tea Etiquette manuals provide classic
warnings against such indiscretions:
there is any one in the company whom you do not know, be careful
how you let off any epigrams or pleasant little sarcasms. m, we
may speak of "bricks" or of the performer having "put
his foot in it." You might be very witty upon halters to a
man whose father had been hanged. The first requisite for successful
conversation is to know your company well.  In meeting a friend
whom you have not seen for some time, and of the state and history
of whose family you have not been recently or particularly informed,
you should avoid making enquiries or allusions in respect to particular
individuals of his family, until you have possessed yourself of
knowledge respecting them. Some may be dead; others may have misbehaved,
separated themselves, or fallen under some distressing calamity.
gestures, inopportune intrusions, and faux pas are sources of embarrassment
and dissonance which are typically unintended by the person who
is responsible for making them and which would be avoided were the
individual to know in advance the consequences of his activity.
However there are situations, often called "scenes," in
which an individual acts in such a way as to destroy or seriously
threaten the polite appearance of consensus, and while he may not
act simply in order to create such dissonance, he acts with the
knowledge that this kind of dissonance is likely to result. The
common-sense phrase, "creating a scene," is apt because,
in effect, a new scene is created by such disruptions. The previous
and expected interplay between the teams is suddenly forced aside
and a new drama forcibly takes its place. Significantly, this new
scene often involves a sudden reshuffling and reapportioning of
the previous team members into two new teams.
scenes occur when teammates can no longer countenance each other's
inept performance and blurt out immediate public criticism of the
very individuals with whom they ought to be in dramaturgical co-operation.
Such misconduct is often devastating to the performance which the
disputants ought to be presenting; one effect of the quarrel is
to provide the audience with a backstage view, and another is to
leave them with the feeling that something is surely suspicious
about a performance when those who know it best do not agree. Another
type of scene occurs when the audience decides it can no longer
play the game of polite interaction, or that it no longer wants
to do so, and so confronts the performers with facts or expressive
acts which each team knows will be unacceptable. This is what happens
when an individual screws up his social courage and decides to "have
it out" with another or "really tell him off." Criminal
trials have institutionalized this kind of open discord, as has
the last chapter of murder mysteries, where an individual who has
theretofore maintained a convincing pose of innocence is confronted
in the presence of others with undeniable expressive evidence that
his pose is only a pose. Another kind of scene occurs when the interaction
between two persons becomes so loud, heated, or otherwise attention-getting,
that nearby persons engaged in their own conversational interaction
are forced to become witnesses or even to take sides and enter the
fray. A final type of scene may be suggested. When a person acting
as a one-man team commits himself in a serious way to a claim or
request and leaves himself no way out should this be denied by the
audience, he usually makes sure that his claim or request is the
kind that is likely to be approved and granted by the audience.
If his motivation is strong, enough, however, an individual may
find himself making a claim or an assumption which he knows the
audience may well reject. He knowingly lowers his defenses in their
presence, throwing himself, as we say, on their mercy. By such an
act the individual makes a plea to the audience to treat themselves
as part of his team or to allow him to treat himself as part of
their team. This sort of thing is embarrassing enough, but when
the unguarded request is refused to the individual's face, he suffers
what is called humiliation.
have considered some major forms of performance disruption--unmeant
gestures, inopportune intrusions, faux pas, and scenes. These disruptions,
in everyday terms, are often called "incidents." When
an incident occurs, the reality sponsored by the performers is threatened.
The persons present are likely to react by becoming flustered, ill
at ease, embarrassed, nervous, and the like. Quite literally, the
participants may find themselves out of countenance. When these
flusterings or symptoms of embarrassment become perceived, the reality
that is supported by the performance is likely to be further jeopardized
and weakened, for these signs of nervousness in most cases are an
aspect of the individual who presents a character and not an aspect
of the character he projects, thus forcing upon the audience an
image of the man behind the mask.
order to prevent the occurrence of incidents and the embarrassment
consequent upon them, it will be necessary for all the participants
in the interaction, as well as those who do not participate, to
possess certain attributes and to express these attributes in practices
employed for saving the show. These attributes and practices will
be reviewed under three headings: the defensive measures used by
performers to save their own show; the protective measures used
by audience and outsiders to assist the performers in saving the
performers' show; and, finally, the measures the performers must
take in order to make it possible for the audience and outsiders
to employ protective measures on the performers' behalf.
1. Ponsonby, op.cit., p. 351.
The Laws of Etiquette (Philadelphia: Carey, Lee and Blanchard, 1836),
The Canons of Good Breeding, p. 80.