“A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel & handed to the child, finished & complete. A self is always becoming.”

—Madeleine L’Engle, 1984, A Circle of Quiet


“Without something to belong to, we have no stable self, and yet total commitment and attachment to any social unit implies a kind of selflessness….  Our status is backed by the solid buildings of the world, while our sense of personal identity often resides in the cracks.”

—Erving Goffman, 1961. Asylums

Who are you, really? Is who you are determined by your personality? How did you become who you are? Is it simply a matter of the traits with which you were born or choices you have made in life? Personality theory clearly dominates our American understanding of who we are, but it is by no means the only way to understand the question of identity. Taking the perspective of symbolic interactionism, this course begins with an exploration of how we create and sustain our identities through interaction with those around us and how those identities change with the surrounding circumstances. The course continues with a consideration of how social situations affect and shape individual identity and behavior.

This is an introduction to the field of social psychology, its major questions and issues, theoretical perspectives, methodologies, and many of the major subject areas within the field. The central questions guiding the format of this course have to do with the relationship between the self, identity, and society. How does society construct the individual? How do individuals construct society?

Topics Covered:

  • The Field of Social Psychology
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • Self and Identity
  • Introduction to Erving Goffman
  • Impression Management
  • Stigmatization
  • Seminar Discussion: On Scandal: Moral Disturbances in Society, Politics, and Art
  • Theory Elaboration
  • Total Institutions
  • Framing and Humor
  • Interaction Rituals
  • “Real LIfe” vs. “Virtual Life:” Technology-Mediated Interaction
  • Seminar Discussion: The Fantasy Factory: An Insider’s View of the Phone Sex Industry

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