Goffman – Individual as Unit

In Erving Goffman’s “The Individual as Unit” (chapter one of his book “(Relations in Public)”) the person is examined as a discreet component in a larger sociological context. The role of individuals are described as a vehicular unit or as a participation unit.

I found it interesting to classify an individual as a vehicle, and further that he classifies vehicles (and their mobility) by the encasement of the driver:
“The more protective the shell, the more, on the whole, the unit is restricted to simple movements.” Thus pedestrians and cyclists would have freer movements than an operator of a car or bus. Despite this, he asserts that many of the same techniques to navigate traffic are shared by all “vehicles” – whether on a sidewalk or street.

As participation units much of Goffman’s assertions about social norms seem dated, although I found interesting the comment about “socially noteworthy” events such as “someone who had come to a party accompanied leaves alone or ‘with someone different’”.

Framing Questions:
Several examples given in the individual as vehicular unit describe a cone of attention, where there the subject scans ahead to identify safe passage and possible conflicts. How do Goffman’s theories about interpersonal space hold up when applying Edward T. Hall’s theories of Proxemics? (The notion of distance categories – Intimate, Personal, Social , Public)

Most of Goffman’s examples for vehicular units occurred outside, in public space such as a sidewalk. How would these dynamics play out differently indoors (where space is likely far more limited), in a private space like a home (amongst participants who are familiar with another) or in a semi-public space like an office or a university campus?

Is the division of participation units into “singles” and “withs” too simplistic? Are there more nuanced relationships given by different numbers of participants? Think of the increasing complexity in connections as group size grows. (Shirky, “Here Comes Everybody”, p.27)

If we consider bodies as vehicles moving through a space, does that alter the way we design interface? Considerations about mobility, attention and space?

How does an experience change when viewed as a “single” versus as a member of a “with”? (As a member of a large group?) In what way should an interface be designed to accommodate both?
(Look at the Hard Rock Cafe Beatles touchscreen)

Can “intention display” (also called “externalization” and “body gloss” in the article) be incorporated into a project? Can the misdirection of this type of full-body expression be used to generate surprise or confusion?






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