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DATA WORKSHOP: Analyzing Everyday Life
Impression Management in Action
They say that you never get to make a first impression twice, that people can size us up in a matter of seconds and quickly jump to conclusions about who we are. How well do you know yourself and the impressions you make on others? This exercise is designed to help make your own impression management work visible—and to help you see how integral it is to your everyday life. For this Data Workshop you will be doing participant observation research with yourself as the subject. Research that involves observing one’s own behavior is known as autoethnography. Refer to Chapter 2 for a review of this method.
Your task will be to observe yourself as you participate in two different social situations. Afterward, you will do a comparative analysis of your presentation of self in each setting. As you examine the most minute details of yourself in interactions, you will probably discover that you perform somewhat different versions of yourself in the two situations. “Doing student,” for instance, might be very different from “doing boyfriend.” Let’s see.
Step 1: Observation
Choose two different situations that you will encounter this week in your everyday life, and commit to observing yourself for thirty minutes as you participate in each. For example, you may observe yourself at work, at a family birthday celebration, at lunch with friends, in your math class, riding on the bus or train, or watching an athletic match. The two situations you choose don’t need to be extraordinary in any way; in fact, the more mundane, the better. But they should be markedly different from one another.
Step 2: Field notes
In an autoethnography, your own actions, thoughts, and feelings are the focus of study. Write some informal field notes about your experience so that you can refer to them when you discuss your findings. Your notes can be casual in tone and loose in format, but, as always, it’s a good idea to write them as soon as possible after your time in the field. That way you capture more of the details you’ll want to remember. Aim for at least one (or more!) full page of notes for each of the two situations.
Step 3: Analysis
After observing yourself in the two situations, read through your field notes and answer the following questions in essay form:
✱ What type of “front” do you encounter when you enter each situation? What role do you play and who is your “audience”?
✱ Can you identify “backstage” and “frontstage” regions for each situation? Which of your activities are preparation and which are performance?
✱ What type of “personal front” (appearance, manner, dress) do you bring to each situation?
✱ How are your facial expressions, body language, and so forth (“expressions given off”) different in each situation?
✱ What kinds of things do you say (“expressions given”) in each situation?
✱ How convincing are you at managing the impression you want to make on others in each of the two situations?
✱ Who are you in each situation? Do you present a slightly different version of yourself in each? Why?
A final Goffman-‐inspired question to answer is this: does engaging in impression management mean that we have no basic, unchanging self? If we bring different selves to different situations, what does that say about the idea of a “true self”? This issue is an important one, and w hope you use your Data Workshop findings to pursue it in greater depth.
Step 4: Write Up
For Step 1, use ethnographic methods of data gathering. Create written field notes to record your actions, interactions, and thoughts during each thirty-‐minute observation period. Be as detailed as possible. Then write a 2-3 page double spaced, 10 -12 point font, essay applying Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis to your own experiences, in response to the questions in Step 3. Refer to your field notes in the essay, and include them as an attachment to your paper.