Social Interaction & Performance: Crash Course Sociology #15

Social Interaction & Performance: Crash Course Sociology #15

You’re daydreaming in class when the teacher
calls on you and asks you a question. You don’t know the answer, so you look desperately
around the room for help. Finally, one of your classmates whispers
it to you. So you say the answer, and the moment of terror
is over. You go back to daydreaming, the teacher goes
back to teaching, and everyone’s happy. A lot of stuff just happened there.
Stuff that raises many questions. Like, why are you worried about giving the
right answer? Why are you worried about answering the question
at all? And why does your classmate help you out,
when it could get them in trouble? If you want the right answers to these questions,
we need to talk about social interaction. And we also need to talk about reality. Because, according to some sociological theories,
the reality of your social world – in your classroom and
beyond – is basically a huge, life-long stage play. [Theme Music] Social interaction is simply the process by
which people act and react in relation to others. Whenever people converse, or yell, or fight,
or play sports, that’s social interaction. And any place you find social interaction,
you’re going to find social structure. Social structure consists of the relationships
among people and groups. And this structure gives direction to, and
sets limits on, our behavior. Because our relationships establish certain
expectations of everyone involved, depending
on the social setting. This is really obvious in a classroom: The teacher
teaches and the students learn, because that’s the
expectation for that relationship, in that setting. But if you run into a teacher, say, at the mall, you both
behave differently – and probably awkwardly – because the expectations for your interaction
in that social setting have changed. Now, this still doesn’t tell us why these
relationships work the way they do. But it does tell us where to look. If our interactions are a matter of expectations,
then we need to understand how those expectations are
set, and for that we need to talk about social status. Status is a position that a person occupies
in a society or social group. It’s part of their identity, and it defines
their relationships with other people. So, the status of “teacher” defines how
a teacher should relate to their students. But statuses aren’t just professions: gender,
race, and sexual orientation are all social statuses,
as are being a father, or a child, or a citizen. And all the statuses held by a single person
make up that person’s status set. That status set can tell us a lot about a person,
because statuses exist in a hierarchy, with some
statuses being more valued than others. So if I tell you that someone is a white middle aged male CEO, then you can make some pretty reasonable guesses about his education, wealth, and the power he holds in society. And you’ve probably noticed that there are different
kinds of statuses; for example “white,” “middle-aged,”
and “male” are pretty different from the status of “CEO.” The first three are all ascribed statuses. Ascribed statuses are those in which a person
has no choice; they’re either assigned at birth
or assigned involuntarily later in life. Race, for instance, is an ascribed status
assigned at birth, while the ascribed status of
“middle-aged” happens at a point later in life. CEO, on the other hand, is an achieved status
– it’s earned, accomplished, or obtained with
at least some effort on the person’s part. Professions, then, are achieved statuses. So is being a student, or a parent. Beyond this difference, there’s also the
fact that some statuses are more important
than others. A master status is the status others are most
likely to use to identify you. This can be achieved, like “professor,”
or ascribed, like “cancer patient.” And as that example shows you, a master status
doesn’t need to be positive or desirable. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be important
to the person who holds it. It just needs to be important to other people,
who use the status as their primary way of
locating that person in the social hierarchy. Also, statuses tend to clump together in certain
ways. Most CEOs are college educated, for example,
but they aren’t always. And a mismatch or contradiction between statuses
is called a status inconsistency. When we talk about PhD students working as baristas,
we’re really bringing it up in that way, because there’s a
status inconsistency between PhD and barista. At least in the industrialized world, service
workers aren’t “supposed” to be highly educated. Now that’s all very interesting, you might
say, but we still haven’t said that much about
social interaction. And you’re right: status gets us started,
but if we want to get into how people behave,
then we need to talk about roles. If status is a social position, then roles
are the sets of behaviors, obligations, and
privileges that go with that status. So a person holds a status, but they perform
a role. Keep that word in mind: Perform. Now, since a person can have multiple statuses,
they can have multiple roles too. But a single status often has multiple roles
that go with it. For example, a teacher’s role in the classroom
is to teach and lead students. But in the faculty lounge, the status of
teacher has another role; acting as a colleague to other teachers,
or as an employee to the principal – roles that require a whole different bunch of
behaviors than those found in the classroom. But all of the roles attached to the single status
of “teacher” make up that status’ role set. All statuses have role sets. And various role sets can sometimes demand
contradictory behaviors of the person who
holds that set. When the roles attached to different statuses create
clashing demands, that’s known as role conflict. Parents who work, for instance, often need to decide
between the demands of their jobs and the demands
of their families, which can lead to role conflict. And even the roles within a single status
can create contradiction, in what we call
role strain. A student who has responsibilities for class,
but also for basketball, and orchestra, and the
yearbook committee, experiences role strain as they try to balance
the competing obligations of these roles, all within
the context of their status as a student. Now sometimes, whether it’s because of conflict,
strain, or other reasons, people just disengage
from a certain role, in a process called role exit. This can be voluntary, like quitting your
job, or involuntary, like getting dumped. In either case, it’s rarely as simple as just
walking out the door, because roles are a
part of who we are. So exiting a role can be traumatic, especially
without preparation, or if the exit isn’t by choice. Now, we’ve been talking about roles as
though they’re prescriptive, or that they totally
determine our behavior. But they don’t! Roles are guidelines, expectations that we
have for ourselves and that others place on us. We may or may not internalize those
expectations, but even if we do, our behavior
still isn’t completely controlled. But why do statuses come bundled with roles
in the first place? Why can’t I just not perform my role? The answer is complicated, but part of it
is that, well, reality itself is socially constructed. I mean, there’s nothing in the laws of physics that says that some people are teachers, and that those people get to ask questions, and students have to answer them. But that doesn’t mean these statuses aren’t
real and don’t have real roles attached to them. One good way of thinking about this is known as the Thomas Theorem, developed by early 20th century American sociologists William Thomas and Dorothy Thomas. It states, “If people define situations as
real, they are real in their consequences.” In other words, statuses and roles matter,
because we say they do. The perception creates the reality. So the reason you can’t just not perform your
role is that, even if you don’t think it matters,
everyone else does think it matters! So the student who refuses to answer a
question gets in trouble, while the teacher who refuses to teach
and just hangs out drinking wine with their
feet up on their desk gets fired. If you have the status of a teacher, people
expect, even demand, that you do the things
teachers are expected to do. How you feel about your status doesn’t really
enter into it. And we know who’s a teacher and who’s a student
based on our background assumptions, our experiences, and the socialization that teaches us about
norms in various situations. So, this is how your reality becomes socially
constructed – you, and everyone around you, uses
assumptions and experiences to define what’s real. By interacting with the people around you, and
expecting certain behaviors in the context of roles, you actually create the social reality that
shapes those interactions that you’re having. The fact that this happens in interaction
is really important, because your social reality
is not just about you. It’s about everyone you’re interacting with,
and their expectations, too. It’s about maintaining a performance. And this idea of performance is really central to a
sociological understanding of how people interact. It’s the key to what’s known as the dramaturgical
analysis of social interaction. This approach, pioneered by Canadian-American
sociologist Erving Goffman, understands social
interaction as if it were a play performed on
stage for an audience. By Goffman’s thinking, people literally perform roles for each other, and the point of social interaction is always – at least partly – to maintain a successful interaction that’s in line with expectations. That is, to satisfy the audience. In order to do this, people need to carefully
control the information others receive about them,
in a process called impression management. Like, if you’re out on a first date, you’re not
gonna talk about how your last relationship ended,
because you don’t want to create a bad impression. But impression management isn’t merely a matter
of what you say and don’t say. It’s also a matter of what you wear and what
you do. That is to say, it’s a matter of what Goffman
referred to as props and nonverbal communication. Props, as you know, are just objects that
performers use to help them make a certain
impression: So if you want to look professional,
you wear a suit. If you want to look studious, make sure you’re
reading a book. And the setting can be a prop too: Being the one
standing at the front of the classroom is like 50%
of what it takes to look like a teacher. And nonverbal communication includes body language
– like standing up straight in order to look respectable,
and maintaining or averting eye contact – as well as gestures,
like waving hello to your friend. Together, props and nonverbal communication
are both examples of what Goffman called
sign vehicles: things we use to help convey impressions
to people we interact with. Those vehicles are important aspects of the performance, but really the most fundamental distinction is the one between what’s part of the performance and what isn’t – in other words, what the audience sees,
and what they don’t. Goffman called this frontstage and backstage. Frontstage is where the audience is and where the
performance happens, while backstage is where the
performer can drop the performance and prepare. Often the things we do backstage would totally
ruin the performance we’re trying to maintain frontstage. A teacher cursing floridly while grading papers
would be considered backstage: important preparation for teaching is happening,
but if any of her students – that is, the audience –
saw her, it would totally ruin the performance, because it defies expectations of how
teachers are supposed to act. And not all performances are one-person shows. The students, for instance, are all on what
Goffman calls a team; they’re all working together
to give a performance collectively for the teacher. This doesn’t mean they’re all friends, or
that they even like each other. It just means that they all need to work together to
pull it off the show of being a good, attentive class. This is why your classmate whispers the
answer to you: They’re helping you maintain the class’s performance
of attentiveness by acting as a teammate. And the teacher goes on teaching. It’s important to understand that, in Goffman’s
analysis, the performances that everyone does
all the time aren’t necessarily adversarial: The students perform for the teacher, and the
teacher performs for the students, but everyone
involved wants the performance to go smoothly. You may not ever win an Oscar. But according to dramaturgical analysis, your
social interactions are where your statuses, roles, and all of the expectations that they
entail, come together for you to give, literally,
the performance of your life. And that performance is the stuff of social
reality. Today we learned about social interaction. We talked about statuses, how you come to
have them, and how they can conflict. Then we talked about how statuses impact your
behavior by determining what roles you have. We explored why those roles matter by talking
about the socially constructed nature of reality. Finally, we learned about the theory of dramaturgical
analysis and how we can understand social interaction
as in terms of theatrical performance. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl
C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s made
with the help of all of these nice people. Our animation team is Thought Cafe and Crash
Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series
at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making
Crash Course possible with their continued

100 thoughts on “Social Interaction & Performance: Crash Course Sociology #15

  1. That flute sound each time a important word is used is annoying,
    and I think it would be more helpful if you wrote the definition with the word you're explaining.
    That, along with the definition you're explaining vocally would only help to memorize the important words.

  2. "Reality itself is socially constructed"
    Are you trying to be misleading?
    Our definition of reality and our interpretation can be, but fundamentally the reality is here whether we define it as "A" and/or "B".

  3. This is possibly the most interesting crash course video I've ever watched. Whoever wrote it did a great job. Is that the person speaking who wrote it? Or somebody else?

  4. If cancer is an ascribed status, woupd a smoker's lung cancer also be? Or would it be an achieved status?
    Assume we can prove the cancer is a direct product of the PT's smoking habit. Clearly, the cancer stems from their actions. Would their actions that qualify as effort, and therefore it would be achieved? What if they denied the risks and actively promoted smoking to others?
    Idk. Neat.

  5. How much effect does pop culture have on influencing our background assumptions, experiences and socialization of certain roles?

  6. I like how the comments section moved away from that "sociology is not a science" thing. That's because we finally got to its object. The object of a science is what decides how to handle that object, and that's why those guys who just wanted to throw up some unexamined abstract truths about scientific knowledge are utterly wrong: they passed kilometers away from any actual stopping and seeing the phenomena. The way you understand sociology is different from how you understand physics, thas't different from biology, etc because their objects demand different approaches, that's all.

  7. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more".

  8. …and all the men and women merely players;

    Bedsitter people look back and lament,
    Another day's useless energy spent…

  9. maybe someone can help me think. I am unable to emotionally connect to social status, and when I try to reason out statuses I can't find it useful to give value to them. I don't like hierarchical systems I think they are doomed to fail and being higher on the pole dose no grant you anything more from me then being on the bottom would. I don't care for big loads of money or trying to be like someone else. but mainly miscommunication is my middle name. I hate many preformed rituals and would rather separate my self from them, but I love to talk about the reasons that groups preform their rituals, witch majority of the time has me ignored by the rest of the group. So, my question is how do I fit into this performance if I don't understand it's value.

  10. This has to be one of the hardest concepts to personally actualise so far, and I love it. It's astonishing how much I'm learning about myself and my past from this series, thanks guys 🙂

  11. That whole idea of performance isn't applicable to all people or all interactions. Like when there's someone you meet and you feel like you can be yourself that isn't a performance. Also I don't give my friends answers for the benefit of anyone but them.

  12. Bleach Blond "Reality itself is social constructed"
    False. Reality exist without human being and human conception. Historically anyone can see this in a person that is alive, then when dead everything to do with that person category of action cease, while super category of reality continues.

    "If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences"
    *False. If a person pretends something is real, that pretending is of no consequence to ANYONE because the imagined cannot be known by others."

    "In other words "status" matters because we say it does"
    False. Status can matter to a person if they pretend it for themselves. There is no "we" in that, the "we" is pretend. A pretend thing is of no consequence to others.

    "the perception creates the reality"
    Impossible. eg If one perceives them self to be god, that pretending does not create that reality for others. What a person pretends is of not consequence to reality or others. Anyone can see this to be true.

    "The reason you can't just not preform your role, even if you don't think it matters, everyone else thinks it matters"
    Correction: Anyone can "pretend" anything matters for themselves. Real things matter to everyone, despite what the pretend.

    "Your social reality is not just about you, it's about everyone you're interaction with"
    Correction: A person social "pretending" is that person only. That person interactions with others is EVERYONE'S reality.

    "Social interaction is about maintain a performance"
    Clarification: A fictional, pretend, theatrical performance… Eving Goffman. Pretending a thing is of no consequence to reality and others. Doing a thing in reality IS OF CONSEQUENCE to reality and others.
    There are there fundamental human relationship: commonality, reciprocity and authority. A relationship is a real observable thing, not theater.

    "sign vehicles"
    Pretend "sign vehicles". Of no consequence to reality and others.

    "everyone wants the performance to go smoothly"
    Clarification: No one can pretend the same thing because it's not of reality.

  13. Lol, I actually did talk about how my last relationship ended with the last person I dated. Now we are getting married. I pretty much opened up to her about anything and everything she wanted to know and she appreciated the honesty. Plus., I don't want to have a partner who I hide things from just because they may not be the most prettiest aspect of me. I want someone who'll accept me for me, and not who I pretend to be socially by hiding facts about myself. I found that person who accepts me for me.

  14. I am surprised there was no mention of Carl Jung and his concept of the mask – we wear different "mask" depending on the social scene we're in. All in all, this was definitely one of my favourite episodes on Crash Course

  15. Statuses do not exist in a strict hierarchy. That is an oversimplification of the multiple ways in which different statuses can affect people.

  16. Is it possible that someone could have a problem that made him insensitive to understand his role in a social group? Or maybe this is my social role.

  17. I thank you , i truely thank you sharing what you’ve got of knowledge with the world and generations to come exaggeration? No.

  18. Well a student in the US is a social designation but a teacher is an occupation, and if you don't do what you've been hired to do you do get fired.

  19. lololol me as a grad student watching this because I totally got lost in all the texts that I forgot what is actually the main concept ahhhhhasiofskfhs

  20. I would love it if you could use more academic terms like dissonance and social identity maybe some habitus😊

  21. So much information in one brief 11 minute video that couldve easily been 45. It forces you to really soak in the information, pause rewind and make sure you caught it all if you really want to learn. Very engaging and interactive.

  22. 6:03 "reality itself is socially constructed" … i take issue with this. "reality" is way too broad a word to use here. social interactions are socially constructed, and the things people believe CAN also be socially constructed. but all of reality? no.

  23. You guys have no idea how helpful this crash course is! I LOVE THIS CHANNEL! ^-^ THANK YOU TO EVERYONE IN THE MAKING.

  24. Talking a little about social interaction, as also indicated in the video, it is more like a phenomenon which keeps taking place almost all the time and everywhere. Whether the he/she be at school, playground, hospital, courtroom or any other place as well, there are always interactions taking place between himself/herself and his/her environment.

    The concept of world being a “stage” and “social roles” (being played by people) were discussed and that puts some light on the origins of “morality”, decision making, expectations, outcomes, comparison and the concept of idealism. Also indicating that the concepts of social interaction and self-concept are inter-related and can evolve.

    Further an important conclusion was drawn that most of the time how people react or in other words play their “roles”, is driven by their belief of how others would react. This also validates the quote by Aristotle, “man is a social animal”.

  25. hello great video, I have a question and I really hope I can have an answer, how talk and interaction can develop social order ??

  26. People are, in some sense only objects in trasit of physical dinensions, incapable of decision, most people only hope they will be perceived as "cool".

  27. As someone with aspergers, I have to say that this whole nonsense about acting a play in life just confirms my theory that non autistic people are inherently crazy.

  28. you could probably write a whole book on that sentence at 6.05.. Actuelly Berger and Luckmann did just that, back in 1966. Hella hard to read tho..

  29. If you want to build a solid understanding of Goffman I recommend reading Mead (1910)Social Consciousness and the Consciousness of Meaning. Bare in mind he's very old fashioned, quite sexist and racist. But his work social interaction is core to some of the work made by Goffman.

  30. Brilliant course, as always. But I wonder…

    Why is it so hard to ignore the Role that comes from a status that other people tries to force upon you? (Which is different from doing your job or other physically enforced Roles. A.i. If it gets you fired or punished, I get why you follow them.)

    But if you're a girl, why act girly? Or if you're a guy, why not dress like a japanese lolita in pink dresses?
    If you're not surrounded by people whom will beat you up over it, there is zero REAL consequences for most things in life. (Trust me, I know. Most people may stare and your friends will call you weird, but that's all. Well, some people may try to bully you, but in my experience, a healthy disregard for human life, or a condescending smile and ignoring them will make them stop pretty fast.)

    And if you're poor, why not dress in preppy fashion and act the same way a rich preppy kid would? (To the degree you can afford it, obviously.) or vice versa.

    I've never understood why anyone bothers to follow a role that it has only minor consequences, mainly in the form of silent disapproval (which is no consequence at all in my book), and is something you want to do? (Or avoid doing.)

    Is it one of those guilt and shame things? Oh! Do you have a video about guilt and shame? It is the ONLY human emotions I cannot for the life of me figure out what might feel like or why they make people do what they do, or why anyone even allow them to exist since they sound entirely useless.
    (Every other emotion, however baffling, have at least SOME grounding in feeling I CAN understand…at least theoretically. But not those two. They make absolutely NO sense.)

  31. And why do people have expectations?

    I get why they have some general idea of how someone else is likely to act, but if your guess is wrong, then you've just guessed wrong. Like a bad prediction of what weather tomorrow will bring.

    Expectations are different, because people seem to be so horribly upset, and pissed off or sad, if you refuse to live up to them. And I don't get why.

    It was their own inability to guess right that disappointed them, not the other person. You got get pissed off at the lottery commission when you guess wrong, so why should you get angry at people for it? (Although I guess maybe some do both. lol)

    It just seems ridiculous to get upset with someone just because they refuse to obey YOUR guesswork and wishes for how they should behave…. Very…dictatorial.

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