Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Theorizing Goffman and Freud: Goffman's Interaction Order as A Social-Structural Underpinning for Freud's Psychoanalytic Self

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Theorizing Goffman and Freud: Goffman's Interaction Order as A Social-Structural Underpinning for Freud's Psychoanalytic Self

Article excerpt

Introduction

Often misread as a straightforward critic of psychiatry, as his work Asylums has too often been misinterpreted, or as a sociologist of emotions, Erving Goffman demonstrated genuine and profound interest in psychoanalytic themes such as self-construction, unease in interpersonal relationships, regulation and transgression, and the textual and performed qualities of the self. By reading Goffman in a dialectical way with Freud, we are able to connect the Interaction Order to the psychoanalytic conception of the self and thereby open up new possibilities of interpretation and transformation. We can use a reading of Freud to identify the unconscious processes implied in Goffman's concepts and a reading of Goffman to place Freud's analysis in an interactive and dramaturgical perspective. These readings enable us to see self-construction in the light of a sociological imagination that extends beyond alleviation of individual symptoms.

We propose a new sociological grounding of psychoanalytic thought, namely using Erving Goffman's dramaturgical model and the concept of the Interaction Order as ways of illuminating the Freudian notions of the superego, the ego-ideal, the introjection of the Father, and the pathways to disorder (which Freud termed "neurosis" in the terminology of his day). Freud conceptualized neurotic symptoms as representations of underlying unconscious thoughts--which may or may not be representations of "real" external experiences, above all interactions with parents--and suggest that these neurotic symptoms become modes of "performing" --topics that are elucidated by a reading of Goffman's work. We offer this reading as a contrast to previous ways of conceptualizing the connection between psychoanalysis and societally-focused views of the self, which included: occasional hints in Freud's clinical work, such as his fable about the two little girls, the janitor's daughter and the little rich girl; his speculative writing, such as Totem and Taboo and Civilization and Its Discontents, in which the discussion is extensive but not well grounded in systematic empirical inquiry; and the voluminous theories proposed by Frankfurt School scholars, feminists, and mid-20th century critical social psychologists. (1)

First, Goffman's concept of the Interaction Order enables us to understand more clearly the Freudian concepts of superego, ego-ideal, and the introjected Father. The Interaction Order is both present in infancy and continually "in operation" in adulthood. The Interaction Order can be visualized as an ongoing drama of performances that can be collaborative or antagonistic, tightly scripted or improvised, consensual and routine or widely divergent and wildly unpredictable. The individual's performance within the Interaction Order in the present draws on the textualized and scripted residues of the Interaction Order that shaped the self in the past. The Interaction Order is not only a force in the present but also an internalized structure, composed of fragments and sediments from many moments of self-formation.

Second, both Goffman and Freud use a dramaturgical approach to understand disorder. Freud as well as Goffman observes the performance of disorder, a condition Freud called "neurosis." In addition, we elaborate on the dialectic of external / internal by linking Freud's "symptoms" to Goffman's modes of disordered or flawed interaction. We suggest that hysteria can be connected to havoc and obsessive compulsive disorder to hyper-ritualization. Through these points of intersection, we can see how Freud illuminates the ways in which disordered thoughts lead to disordered performances that in turn lead to disordered interaction, and how Goffman identifies the ways in which breakdowns and disruptions in the Interaction Order can generate havoc and hyper-ritualization. This dual reading enables us to develop a critical view of society and the Interaction Order beyond the disorders that afflict individuals. …

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