Details: As we discussed at the beginning of the semester, sociology begins with the Industrial Revolution and its influences on how living in a modern, industrialized society affect us and, in this class, how these things have specifically affected human sexuality.
Our focus in the class has been less of a clinical, textbook investigation of human sexuality and more about how we communicate about human sexuality.
Drawing upon the various theoretical perspectives that sociology offers, we’ve considered human sexuality in terms of the various frames that sociologists use to define modern society itself: The Stage (Goffman), The Factory (Marx), The Prison (Foucault), The Church/Temple (Durkheim) and The Starship (Parsons).
In your final paper please reflect on what you feel you learned either about human sexuality and/or gender itself from the frameworks we considered and/or what you feel you may have learned about how we communicate about human sexuality and/or gender.
Feel free to write the paper as a kind of reflection on your experience in the class itself as you took it and how your thinking may have been affected or altered by what you feel you learned.
Again, the idea is to write less of an academic paper than to write a reflection on what you may have learned academically 🙂
Your final paper SHOULD:
–be 3 to 5 pages long (although it can be as long as you want, as long as it’s good;-))
-have a creative title and underneath the title have a favorite quote of yours from the readings or lecture summaries (from this class only).
-be double-spaced with 12 point font.
–be written in a personal, first person style such as you use in your journal reflections. Try to be as natural and real as possible. Don’t be afraid to be funny. But also remember that none of these things are substitutes for showing yourself and me what you’ve learned about human sexuality this semester.
–you may focus on or write about any ONE of the sociological perspectives — The Stage (Goffman), The Factory (Marx), The Prison (Foucault), The Church/Temple (Durkheim) and The Starship (Parsons) — or you may choose to write about MORE than one, it is completely up to you.
But whichever of the topic(s) you choose, you should connect them to you and your life (e.g., you can reflect on your own experiences and what you feel you learned about them in class) as well as the sociology we’ve been studying.
–include at least 3 to 5 citations from the assigned readings that you liked including my lecture summaries.
–discuss some, a few or a couple of specific sociological ideas and concepts you’ve learned about or that you feel have helped you understand yourself better.
–demonstrate what you actually learned in this class and, especially, what you’ve learned about yourself.
Your paper should NOT:
-refer to any readings other than those assigned for this class.
-simply be a reiteration of your own personal experiences with or about human sexuality without connecting it to what you’ve learned in class and/or sociology.
I can’t grade you on your life.
I can only grade you on how you connect your experiences or thoughts in these areas to sociology.
If you don’t connect your experiences to sociological concepts that we’ve studied don’t expect a grade higher than a C.
-be a first-person essay about your *opinions* regarding human sexuality.
You don’t need to take a college class to have opinions, you came in here with them.
So the idea is to show me what you’ve learned during the semester sociologically and how that helps you understand human sexuality in ways you hadn’t thought about before.
How has the sociology you have learned here enabled you to see aspects of human sexuality in a different way than you did at the beginning of the class?
I am sending a few summaries from my instructor lectures.
I begin all of my classes with this reading because all of my classes involve communication, even classes that are entirely online such as this one.
How we communicate with one another — and how we feel about how we communicate with one another — is crucial to a successful learning experience and is, of course. crucial in any relationship we’re going to be involved in.
This is especially true when it comes to a subject like Human Sexuality.
As Dr. Seiver told us last week in her “Introduction to Human Sexuality,” the topic of Human Sexuality involves topics that can be uncomfortable, controversial, and embarrassing,
So it’s especially important that we be aware of how we’re communicating when we’re communicating material related to sexuality because it can be potentially offensive.
But we’re also framing the subject of Human Sexuality within the framework of sociology.
Last week’s module drew on Psychology (Dr. Seiver, for example, is a psychologist) and the Noba module was also focused on a psychological view of Human Sexuality.
We’ll be drawing on a number of different disciplines in considering sexuality as a subject but the foundation or basis we will always come back to is sociology because sociology has a distinctive and particular way of making sense of sexuality.
Sociology consists of a number of central stories or narratives (also called “theories”) that explain Human Sexuality in a distinctively sociological way.
The first of these sociological frameworks is the idea of human sexuality being a kind of Stage upon which we perform and the sociologist who is going to help us understand sexuality in this way is named Erving Goffman.
The first thing we should understand is that Goffman argues everything, not just sexuality, is a kind of Stage upon which we’re acting or performing.
And so our quickest way to learn how to apply it to sexuality is to apply it to our own experience in class, class itself being a kind of Stage and what you and I are doing here is also a kind of “acting” and “performing.”
But before we get to Goffman specifically, let’s talk a little more about sociology itself as that will be the main tool we use to understand and explore Human Sexuality.
We study sociology to understand the social structure to which we all belong.
Moreover, this sociology class itself has a social structure and every social structure is made up of two things:
The Role, consisting of the part we’re given to play.
The Group, the collection of people (in some shape or form) that provides the roles we play.
You are playing the role of student in this online class and I’m playing the role of teacher.
Sociology, in its most basic form, consists of these two key things, that we play roles but that in order to play a role we have to belong to a group, because it’s the group that gives us whatever role we’re going to play.
This is true in terms of whether we belong to a group called a family (with the roles of parent and child, father and mother, brother and sister, grandparent, grandchild, etc.) or marriage (husband, wife), or work for a particular company (the roles of employee and employer) or a nation (citizens, officials), etc.
In order for you to play the role of student and me to play the role of teacher there has to be a group called Los Angeles Valley College that we belong to so that we can play these roles and then the group of this particular class.
It’s like in order for us to be able to play a role in a particular play or t.v. show, that play or t.v. show has to exist in the first place, right?
These two terms of group and role are sociology in its essence because sociology argues that the Group of Groups, the thing that all these different groups (which more formally are called “institutions”) belong to is the society, and society is made up of the social structure .
Society, the biggest Group of all, is made up of the social structure which is its foundation in the same way that the skeleton is the foundation of our body.
And the social structure is made up of groups we belong to and the roles we play.
If not, hang in there, because I’m about to introduce you to the first of the sociological frameworks we’re going to use and it’s a pretty good one and one that most of us can pretty easily relate to.
We’re studying society as being a kind of Stage upon which we perform our roles.
In other words, our roles have a kind of dramatic power to them, as if we’re playing roles in a play or a movie.
In other words, we are all performing when we play our roles in whatever it is we’re doing.
There is a “front stage” that we present to the people when we are performing, that is, the part of us we want them to see, and there is a “back stage” that we all have, which is what we don’t want them to see.
I have a friend who is quarantined with her family right now: a husband she loves very much and a beautiful 3 year old daughter that she also loves and a dog that she’s pretty fond of.
But she’s having a really hard time right now with “cabin fever” because they are all together all the time and she feels that she has to be “on” all the time, that is, performing for them and showing them a certain side of her, which would be okay in normal life, because in normal life she has is able to have a “back stage” where she can get some Me Time or a break or a space from these people she loves so dearly in order to give her a break from “being on” or performing all the time.
Her husband is at work and her child in preschool during normal times. But now she says there are a lot of times where they are all in the bathroom at the same time so that she can’t even take a shower by herself because all that is between her and them is the shower curtain.
There isn’t really any space and distance for her to “get herself together” with herself before she has to play the roles of “wife,” “mother,” “dog walker.”
Maybe you can relate?
The point being that the reason we feel like we’re always playing roles with a front-stage side of us and a back-stage side of us is that we *are.*
For example, why are so many fascinated with what actors and celebrities do? Why are we always keeping up with the latest gossip on these people, like Kanye and Kim (D-i-v-o-r-c-e? No! Say it ain’t so!)
Because they are just doing professionally or for money what you and I and everybody else does in our own real lives, just not getting famous or getting paid for it at a celebrity level.
The punch line here is that being in any relationship means being part of a performance in which two (or more) people are playing roles and performing.
And the relationship is the stage upon which we are playing our roles.
The term sociology uses to describe us is “social actor” and that is literally what we are according to our first sociological perspective.
So the first example of social structure that we’re going to work within class is this idea of what is called micro sociology or symbolic interactionism. This area of sociology focuses on the role especially and how we socially construct our reality, i.e., social structure.
In other words, on the one hand, sociology is telling us that our individuality is in fact not just an individual thing but a social thing, it comes from our society (the group).
But on the other hand, sociology is telling us that you and I help to build or make this society (or group) we’re members of through our interaction with it.
Class for example isn’t just something that LAVC creates or that I teach: the reality for each and every one of you is that you are also part of the reality of the class in your role as student. And each of you has a slightly different way of playing your role of student.
You are not only just being a student sitting in class (individual, individual-part), you are also *performing* being a student sitting in class (social structure, role-part).
Class in this respect is a kind of stage or play and you and I both are performing our parts in the “drama” or “stage” of this class.
There are two major perspectives in sociology: macro sociology (which focusses on the group) and microsociology (which focuses on the role).
Right now we’re starting the class with microsociology or what is also called the sociology of everyday life or symbolic interactionism.
Microsociology talks about the idea that we can distinguish the different roles we play by three different elements:
(1) Costumes (what we wear, how we attire ourselves);
(2) Scripts (the kind of story or narrative we’re following in any given relationship or situation; and
(3) Props (the various things we use to reinforce the role we’re playing).
So each of you distinguishes yourself in an in-person class by the way you dress for class, the way you act in class and the things you bring with you that reinforce your role (laptop, tablet, coffee, food, etc.)
And the point of course is that this isn’t just true in this class. Every single one of us is playing multiple roles every single day: student, employee, wife, girlfriend, daughter, close friend, acquaintance, believer, non-believer, explorer, experimenter, fan, etc.
The grades in this class, sociologically speaking, can be seen as groups , too. So if you get an A you’re in the A-group, or a B, you’re in the B-group, etc. So some of you define your role as being “an A student.” Others as a B or a C student.
Thus, if every grade is a kind of group , then every grade has a corresponding role, right?
So one way to assess grades in a classroom sociologically would be to see whether A-students dress differently than say C or D students (costumes), do they act differently inside and outside of class (scripts) and do they have different kinds of things they carry around with them to reinforce their role (A students with a laptop, D students with cigarettes or joints)?
Microsociology wants to get at the *effort* and *work* and *skill* that each of us puts into our performances in all these different aspects of our life.
In other words, you and I don’t just kind of show up on this Canvas class coincidentally or naturally or individually.
In order for both you and I to be in the classroom, we both have had to already do a fair amount of *performing* the roles of teacher and student and the classroom itself becomes another *stage* upon which we perform.
2. Erving Goffman: Impression Management and the Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
Every sociological perspective we’re going to use is going to be associated with the sociologist who it is most closely associated with.
Erving Goffman is up first. Goffman is the sociologist who came up with the idea that society is like a stage and we are all actors upon it (Shakespeare had something similar to say a long, long time ago but he wasn’t a sociologist ;-)).
Erving Goffman asserts that the self “is a dramatic effect arising…from a scene that is presented.”
So the kind of self we can be is limited or defined by the specific stage we are appearing on and what role we are playing.
What about in class? What kind of roles are we performing?
Me “instructor,” You “Student.”
Can we really be “real” in terms of these roles? No.
But is being “real” in here what we want? Not really.
Because the focus isn’t really about us personally is it?
We are coming together on this particular stage in an LAVC (online, Canvas) classroom to study something outside of us: society.
Goffman is interested in getting at “the discrepancy between our all-too-human selves and our socialized selves.”
There is always a tension between the way we really are and the way we want people to perceive us.
Playing our role, concentrating on how we present ourselves, allows us to control our situation and our environment.
By managing the impressions others have of us, we assume we can prevent them from knowing things about us, our secrets, that we don’t want them to know while at the same time getting what we want from them and getting them to behave the way we want them to behave.
Goffman argues that we always want to control the audience by managing their impressions of us.
Even if it’s just an audience of one, i.e., our significant other. This way we get people to act the way we want them to act voluntarily.
This is “impression management” and involves what Goffman calls front stage and back stage behaviors.
The most interesting part of Goffman’s approach is this part, which gets at all the juicy, secretive stuff we try and hide (and we’re all hiding something at some time, aren’t we…or is that just me ?).
So according to Goffman and dramaturgical analysis we are all trying to present an idealized version of ourselves while trying to hide our very real problems or shortcomings.
When we normally think of this kind of thing we’re thinking about dating, which is where we usually want to appear our best, idealized self (esp. if we get fixed up with some “hottie”!) as opposed to be the slovenly, belching, gassy, rude person that we normally are (mmm, again, maybe that’s just me ).
But Goffman argues we all do this all the time in all our performances, not just dating, but at our regular jobs, at school, with friends and so forth. For Goffman we’re always performing, we’re always playing a role, we’re always on .
(Goffman musta lived in L.A., wouldn’t you say?)
And so the most important thing about performing is not to let other people see or know we are performing, right?
So Goffman argues we cover up the fact that we’re performing in the following five ways:
Want to conceal “secret pleasures” (drinking, drugging, etc) incompatible with our performance;
Want to conceal errors in the preparation of performance or during the performance;
Conceal the process or work involved in putting on our performance;
Conceal un-nice things we do in order to stage performances.
Hide any humiliations involved in putting on a performance.
Okay, so what all the above micro approaches have in common is that they see individuals as rationally managing or controlling their appearance or performance in society, right?
Now what’s a potential problem with Goffman’s perspective?
It can result in a very cynical on society with people just being a bunch of phonies putting on fronts to get what they want….kind of like real actors! (no, say it ain’t so!).
3. Key Elements of Impression Management According to Goffman
Goffman identifies certain elements of “impression management”:
Reality and Contrivance
1. Front. Goffman argues this is the main element of the impressions that we give off, what we most want people to see. There are three immediate aspects to maintaining the front (or front stage) of our performance: setting, appearance, manner. Which are each of these in our classroom? When attending an in-person classroom, clearly we have a different “front stage” performance than when we are on Zoom, for example, or in a fully-online Canvas class like this one. While part of our “front” (or front stage) performance in an in-person class may relate to how we dress, for example, on a Zoom class a large component of our “front” is determined whether we decide to be on-camera or off-camera. On a fully-online Canvas class like this one, performance is narrowed down to our appearance on the Discussion Board and communication via the Inbox.
2. Dramatic Realization . When we talk about people being “drama,” we’re getting at a social reality according to Goffman which is that things aren’t really perceived unless they’re *dramatically realized.* In order to be *seen*, we must be *performing.* Just speaking or being present isn’t enough either for us to be noticed or even visible. We must convey who we are and what we say through *signs* and our *performance.*
3. Idealization . Our “front” is always an idealized version of who we are. We never want to come off worse than we are, we always want to present ourselves as ideal or better. Like: who’s gonna show up at a wedding in their underwear, right? Well, Goffman says: “The world, in truth, is a wedding.” This is most apparent in “social mobility,” or “upward mobility,” i.e., moving up in the world. The higher we go in our social roles and status the more *ideal* we have to appear to be. Our “front” has to be more ideal and perfect the more prestige and money we achieve.
4. Negative Idealization . Goffman mentions the example of how some partners in relationships feel the pressure or need to “dumb” themselves down to please their partners.
5. Mystification. Basically, all of us, at some time or the other, in order to project a “magic” or “extraordinary” aspect of our “front” will engage in a kind of “mystification,” i.e., a sort of “distancing” ourselves from others and “placing restrictions on social contact” that will generate a kind of “awe” or “mystery.” Gender differences are a ready example of this, especially the idea of the “eternal feminine” or women and femininity as somehow “mysterious” or “different.”
6. Reality and Contrivance . Goffman talks about the fact that we don’t necessarily have to be “sincere” in our performances in order for them to be seen as being authentic. Not only that, being *too* sincere can sometimes hamper our ability to carry off our “front”: “we find that a rigid incapacity to depart from one’s inward view of reality may at times endanger one’s performance.”
Goffman is questioning the idea that being more “honest” is necessarily more “truthful” than being a “phony” in terms of performance. His point being that *none* of us ever fully feels up to the *idea* front we’re projecting so that *all* of us have to act “as if” a lot of the time. What’s important is not so much that we be “sincere” as we be really good “performers.”
Goffman’s not saying that this sounds very nice but he’s saying that it accounts for more reality than we usually acknowledge.
“Scripts even in the hands of unpracticed players can come to life because life itself is a dramatically enacted thing. All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t aren’t easy to specify.”
And, Goffman says, none of us are ever handed the “script” of the roles that we play but we learn them on the fly and therefore *have* to “act” since we never fully know everything about the roles that are expected of us.
“Socialization may not so much involve a learning of the many specific details of a single concrete part — often there could not be enough time or energy for this….In short, we all act better than we know.”
Okay, so far so good.
You’re on board with old Erving, you can relate to this idea of front-stage/back-stage and being a performer and so on.
BUT there is a “but.”
Each of these sociological perspectives gets at something really good and interesting and insightful but each perspective also has its limitations and things we may not agree with so much.
For Goffman, we are only ever performers. That is all we are.
In other words, Goffman says that since all we can ever see is someone’s performance, we can really never know what they think or who they actually are.
In fact, Goffman says sort of the same thing about ourselves. We only know ourselves through how we perform for others.
For Goffman, there *is* no REAL us. There is only the social actor.
So if you and I talk about our authenticity or our soul or real self Goffman is going to say that each of these things is really just another…performance. Just another role we’re playing.
Goffman defines the “self” as basically a kind of “peg” upon which we hang all the roles we play.
And we might say in reply to Goffman (although we actually can’t, he’s been dead awhile) but “hey, I’m a real person and I have feelings, what about those?”
Goffman would shrug (if, you know, he were still alive) and he would say: “I’m sorry but the only way we can ever see or know you are feeling a certain way is if you *perform* it. None of us can actually see inside each other’s brains. So you can tell me you have all the feelings you want but the only way I’m actually ever going to know if you’re having a feeling is by seeing you act it out or perform it.”
To Goffman, not only is sexuality a kind of performance but so, too, is love…everything to him is a kind of acting.
4. Andy Warhol and Applying Goffman’s Performative Approach to Sexuality and Love
So now that you have some idea of Goffman’s idea that we are all performers and that we are all “impression managers,” managing our “front stage” and trying to keep our “backstage” hidden from view, we’re going to turn to Andy Warhol for a more down-to-earth and “on the court” view of sexuality and love (we can often confuse the two and Warhol gives us good examples of this).
Andy Warhol was the “Pope of Pop” culture back in the day (1960’s, ’70’s and ’80’s) and was a very influential figure in popular culture generally.
Andy Warhol himself had something of a fractured romantic life and never married but he did have significant relationships.
Warhol is a kind of clown and looks at love in a somewhat humorous way but he also makes us really think about the nature of sexuality, love and loving as we often experience it in a society where we live in and through our technologies, such as smartphones, the Web, apps and binge-watching.
In many ways he was the pioneer of the society we live in today because he was living this way back in the 1960’s and ‘70’s and much of the technology we have today (both the previously mentioned things and, for example, You Tube) is based on his statement back then that “in the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes.”
Warhol’s reflections on love certainly are about performance and the front-stage as Goffman describes it and the facade of Carl Rogers and his point that “fantasy love is better than real love” is really an argument that we prefer fantasy to the hard-work of reality and real intimacy (that is, really knowing and accepting ourselves and others), which is one of the reasons that we spend so much time with our technology: it protects us from too much personal involvement and enables us to hide behind our front-stage or facade.
Warhol is saying we prefer fantasy (performance and technology) because reality is too hard.
So I’d like you to read the two short chapters I’ve provided from “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” as great examples of how sex and love can be performative and all about “impression management,” the “front stage” and the “backstage.”
The first reading, Love (Prime), is a very short take on a model that Warhol know who he calls “Taxi” but was based on one of the “superstars” he created (Warhol is credited with inventing the term “superstar”) named Edie Sedgewick.
The second reading, Love (Senility), is a series of reflections by Andy Warhol on the relationship between love and sex.
Warhol himself was a gay man living in a much more conservative and repressed time sexually and culturally but he also used humor as a way of deflecting those pressures and so often made jokes about himself being “straight” (heterosexual) even though he was publicly known to be a gay man.
Warhol’s point was that in some respects the pressures that we can all feel around love and sex are not limited to one gender or sexual orientation but are in many ways universal, that we are all challenged by sexuality and love regardless of our preferences or sexual culture.
Warhol’s observations then illuminate some of the realities of the attitudes that we all have regarding love and sex although in a more common-sense and down-to-earth way than some of the more academic material we will be using to explore these realities and attitudes.
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