This semester I’m taking the second half of BYU’s required sociological theory unit. I actually ended up enjoying the first half, although it always seemed like a lot of my classmates were struggling with the material. Here’s something I didn’t think was possible–this semester they are even more confused than before. And while I realize that theoretical jargon is sometimes hard to understand, it boggles my mind how much my classmates warp the material. Then they tell the teacher that this theorist or that theorist is obviously wrong.
Example: we discussed Sartre and Goffman, particularly their ideas about the self (which is nothing, or no-thing, not an object). Goffman says that because we don’t have some inherent self-identity — a chair has some chair-ness about it, but I don’t have a definite roni-ness about me — everything we do is a presentation of the self we would like others to accept us for. Just to make sure you follow that, he’s saying that we are always pretending to be something. It’s pretending because the self is no-thing. Get it? Well, the teacher was explaining how no one wants to be called out for pretending to be something they’re not, so we all kind of work together to maintain this illusion. For instance, a professor presents himself to his students as a professor, but he also needs them to accept his performance; students need the professor to accept their presentation. The idea behind this is that our self is not the same as our activities, so while I go to school and learn in the role of a student, I am not actually “a student” any more than I am “a homewrecker” (just kidding).
I hope you’re getting this ok. Let’s move on. To further demonstrate the professor-student teamwork thing, our teacher said that at home, he presents himself as the father, and his kids accept his performance. Someone in class said, “But you’re their biological father. You’re not pretending. It’s a fact. You can’t argue with it! It’s not a performance!” Unfortunately, this guy was completely missing the point. He’s basing “father” on genetic material, when in sociology we pretty much base “father” on a set of social roles and expectations. But it’s hard to explain to people that they are wrong. He kept going on about how science proves to us that there is a father-son relationship. I really wonder where he was all last semester when we talked about the argument against positivism and the scientific method.
Then other classmates voiced their difficulties with the theory as well. One girl said that she knows who she is, and that’s how she acts, she isn’t just pretending or trying to convince people! She is sincere! Again, Goffman and Sartre said that we are NO-THING and therefore have no self-identity. That means we always pretend. It is absolutely fine with me if people want to disagree with the theories we discuss. But there’s a difference with finding weaknesses in the argument, and with misinterpreting the theory and then saying it’s wrong. Besides…I think Goffman would argue that we really aren’t aware that we pretend.
That’s my thought for the day.