Jameson - On Goffman's Frame Analysis

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On Goffman's Frame Analysis Author(s): Fredric Jameson Source: Theory and Society, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring, 1976), pp. 119-133 Published by: Springer Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/656942 Accessed: 05/12/2009 15:20 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=springer. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]

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Though betrayingtracesof the Hauptwerk-prolongedgestation period, widerangingsecondary referencesfrom linguistics to theatricalhistory, a voluminous file of clippingspouredin pell-mell-FrameAnalysis may also be regarded as yet another version, albeit a vastly distended one, of that peculiarmonographicform which is Goffman's invention and to which we returnbelow. It is in any case further testimony to the increasingrapprochementbetween ethnomethodology and semiotics, a development which may seem healthier for the latter, where it means liberation from a narrow dependence on linguistics,than for ethnomethodology, where, as we shall see in the present case, it suggeststhe spell of some distant and unattainableformalization,and is accompanied by a decided shift in emphasis from the content of social events and social phenomena to their form, from the concrete meaningsof the raw materialin question to the way in which they mean and ultimately to the natureof social meaningin general. This is the sense in which Frame Analysis constitutes a virtualmonument to the new tendency, with its elaborate defense of the proposition that meanings,in everyday life, are the projection of the structureor form of the experiencesin which they are embodied, and that they may most adequately be dealt with in terms of the ways in which such experiences are framed,in which they relate to, transpose (change "key," to use Goffman's musical analogy) or cancel other frames. That one may talk about social life this way (indeed, that, after Goffman, it will be difficult to avoid talking about it in these terms), Frame Analysis triumphantlydemonstrates.It is semiotic, not so much in its applicationof specializedsemiotic terminologyand conceptual Departmentof Literature,Universityof California,San Diego. * Erving Goffman: Frame Analysis, Harper Colophon Books (New York), 1974.

120 instruments, as rather through the analogy between its fundamental program-the invention of something like a grammarand a set of quasisyntactic abstractions for analyzing social life-and the strategy of FrancoItalian semiotics insofar as the latter involvedthe metaphoricalapplicationof linguistic categories to larger and more complex culturalphenomena.What will concern us here is ratherthe price to be paid fur such an undertakingin the form of the systematic pre-preparationof Goffman'sraw materialand in particulara preliminaryneutralization of the latter's social and historical content. Not that Goffman's is the only form which a semiotizationof ethnomethodology might take: we should mention, for a complete picture of the possible options, the rather different emphasis of Garfinkel himself, or of Aaron Cicourel,on the textual dimensionof social rawmaterials,and on the ways in which ordinarypeople transmutetheir own "facts" into "accounts"as well as those in which sociologists do it for them. This approach,a good deal more overtly linguistic than Goffman's,brackets questions of ultimate reality and limits itself deliberatelyto the considerationof such realities only insofaras they have alreadybecome texts: the methodologicalrestrictionis not unlike that of Bartheswhen, in Systeme de la mode, he decided to limit his semiotic analysis of clothing styles to the verbal descriptions of the latter in the fashion magazinesratherthan to take on the full substantialityof the things themselves.Goffman's aims are granderand more imprudentlymetaphysical than this, for he means to give us statementsabout the "objective"structures themselves;and, although questions may be raised about the status of the observer in his system, I think I would rather link the relative unselfconsciousness of his procedureswith that attack on the "subject"(in other words, on individualconsciousness),which is, as we shall see, one of the most interestingfeaturesof his new book. The other fundamental comparison for grasping Goffman's project and measuringits originalityis of course that older traditionof CentralEuropean sociology-the unjustly neglected GeorgSimmel as well as Schutz himselffrom which ethnomethodology ultimately derives, and which attempted to rewrite social objects or institutions-Durkheim's "facts"-in terms of social praxis, or in other words, to use the more recent formulation,to graspsocial reality in terms of its socially constructed character. The fundamental objection to this approach-that its very stress on the transparencyof social realities and institutions leaves it poorly equipped to do justice to the increasingreification and opacity of life underlate capitalism-cannot retract its historic significanceas a systematic attempt, by displacingattention from the natura naturata of society to its natura naturans, to break through

121 precisely that increasinglyimpenetrableobject-worldheaped up about it by increasinglyinaccessiblesocioeconomic forces. At the same time, it may be suggested that the new phenomenologically oriented sociology reflected a fundamentalchange in the characterof social life itself in the great industrial cities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in particular that the new methods evolved in response to new difficulties in dealing with this new raw material, from which, with the general secularizationof life, the rigid custom of the older traditional or village folksways had disappeared.This is a sense of anomie quite unlike, but intimately related to, that diagnosedby Durkheim,whose judgements on it, like those of his German contemporary Tonnies, were surely conditioned by the implicit or explicit comparisonbetween this new "freedom of the city" and the older organic community or Gemeinschaft supplanted by it. What interests us here, however, is the formal problem posed by such new social material,which no longer seems to offer any "laws" or moeurs or prescribedbehavior patterns to describe. In our perspective, indeed, a whole complex of problems, such as for instance that of the nature of social "structure," seem misconceived: thus the "problem" of social structurewould appearratherto raisethe historicalissue of the emergenceof a society about which such a question could be asked in the first place. So Malinowskireminds us that modern ethnography was born at the moment when a fundamentalchange took place in Westernthinking on the question of whether primitive social groups were utterly anarchic (more properly, anomic), or, on the contrary,only too terrifyinglyorderedand legislated:"It is a very far cry from the famous answer given long ago by a representative authority who, asked what are the manners and customs of the natives, answered: 'Customs none, mannersbeastly!', to the position of the modern Ethnographer.This latter, with his tables of kinshipterms, genealogies,maps, plans and diagrams,provesthe existence of an extensive and big organization, shows the constitution of the tribe, of the clan, of the family;and he gives us a picture of the natives subjected to a strict code of behavior and good manners,to which in comparisonthe life at the Courtof Versaillesor Escurial was free and easy."'1 Yet precisely that liberation of humnanactivity and social life under capitalism, which allowed us for the first time to perceive and measure the rigid structures and organizationof the various kinds of pre-capitalistsocial forms, places the student of modern social life in that dilemma to which we referred to above, and to which phenomenological sociology may be seen as one historical solution, namely the descriptionof the laws of what is not supposedto have any laws any more, and the analysis of the structureof what is supposedto have freed itself from structure.

122 Goffman's situation is, to be sure, rather different from that of the sociologists of the older Europeanmetropolis;yet the formalproblemin question, in the ostentatiously mobile and fluid America of today, is if anythingmore acute. It does not seem quite right,however,to characterizethis situation, as he does himself, as one in which face-to-face encounters have become the public or the political arena2. We are now far enough away from 1968 to have realized that the media personalizationto which Goffman referswas not so much the sign of some impendingsocial transformation,as rathera mode of containment in its own right. Still, the allusion suggeststhat it is against the Sixties as a whole that Goffman's work must be seen, and in particular, that it is in terms of the Utopian promises of the counterculturethat his method becomes visible as a historical position and an ideologicalstatement. For the vocation of the whole counterculturalmovementwas the elimination of the last remnantsof precisely those taboos and customs which it used to be the mission of sociology or anthropology to tabulate, and the Sixties (or rather,that part of the Sixties) held out the ultimate Utopian vision of a life space in which people could meet face to face in some absolute and unmediated sense, beyond all status or conventions, without recourse to preliminaryidentifications and independent of all the traditionalformulasof conversationalritual, in short, utterly divested of all of those abundantcues with which the older social groupings hedged and defused the anxieties implicit in the encounter with the Other. Today, when the unmediated languageof hippie talk has proved to be a tissue of conventions in its own right, and been degraded to the status of a media sub-code, when it has become clearer to us that, far from abolishing the older groups and social units, the hippie enterprize was itself dependent for its realization on precisely the existence of social class in the form of the sharedbackgroundof disgruntledmiddle class children, the failure of this powerful but fll-founded anarchistic dream threatens to discredit Utopian thinking in general. Goffman's reply-his programmaticdemonstration of the way in which, in the absence of the older skeletal structureof custom, the apparentformlessness of modern life is articulatedby the firm cartilegeof his socio-semiotic frames-is part of an only too predictable backlash and one of the most systematic rebukes to all of those prematurepredictions of the "withering away" of the social orderand of social convention. Clearly,however, this ideologicaland anti-Utopianbias is little more than the basic motivation of Goffman'swork, whose authority must on the other hand be measured by its success and its inventivenessin coping with that formal problem of sociological description in a post-traditionalworld to which we referred above. This work has so often been described as "literary"by its admirers (or detractors?) that it does not seem impertinent to draw on

123 literary analogies as a way of underscoring the specificity of its own procedures,all the more so since the older social novel or novel of moeurshas some claim to be considered an ancestor of phenomenological or ethnomethodologicalsociology in its own right. What is relevantfor us in the history of that particularnovelistic form is the hesitation of the latter, indeed its alternation, between two basic and apparently incompatible formal strategies. On the one hand, and most frequently, the social novel uses its anecdotal material to typify social custom, or in other words, to reveal the latter by offering illustrationsand examples of its basic rules. In this kind of narrative,then, the relationship between social order and plot is one of the generalto the particular,or better still, of genus to species or class to member. This strategy (in some respects reaching its climax in naturalism,and in the bestseller which emerged from naturalism)tends to find itself locked, not in a hermeneutic,but merely in a vicious, circle: to perceivethe typicality of custom or character-type,we have to have known it ahead of time, so that the only aesthetic surprisesin store for us will be held by precisely those deviations from custom or typicality which can no longer serve as very good examples of the latter. So the novel embracesthe new vocation of documentationor journalism,only to find that it has thereby rendereditself superfluousin the process. So, whether by narrativeinstinct or by conscious design, a rather different strategy comes into being which we will describe as the detection or revelationof social constraintsand institutions by meansof transgression:the novelist who chooses this second strategy must construct his plot, less as a guided tour than as a hunting expedition, in which traps are laid, feints are rehearsed,a whole apparatusmarshalledin view of an event which may or may never occur, namely the blundering of the game into the nets thus provided,the triggeringof the snares,the slow emergenceinto visibility of the elusive sense of society as law. The presuppositioninherent in an approach like this amounts to a refusal to considerSociety as an entity or substancein the functionalist sense; it implies the view that social institutions are essentially negative existents, and have the being of taboos, springinginto life only when we infringethem, and quite invisibleand imperceptible,indeed wellnigh non-existent, when they are respected and we remainwithin the intangible barbed wire of a whole network of electric eyes. So the greatest novelists were instinctively aware that there did not exist some object called Victorian society, of which you could provide some elaboratemimesis;but that on the other hand the instrument of plotting lay to hand to devise a set of circumstancessuch that alarm signalswould go off page after page, causing the ghostly reality of the Social Order to make its appearancebefore the

124 mind's eye more effectively than any sociology textbook. I suppose that the last great example of such a novel-which deserves the qualification of "experimentalnovel" in a very different sense than that intended by Zola himself-was Ford's Parade'sEnd, which charts a virtualtransgressivemap of Britishsociety. pre-World-War-I The reader will long since have grasped the intent of this digression to underscorea similar shift in "narrativestrategy"in the sociological schools themselves: on this view, the originalityof ethnomethodologicaldescription is to have replacedthe older illustrativeand typifying sociology, which still believed in the reality of social laws and institutions, with a new strategyof indirection. Hence the instinctive predilection of the new approach for transgressivematerialsand its nowhere clearly formulatedsense that what is revealingabout contemporarysociety is not so much what it admitsto being (or is supposed to be) but ratherwhat is not supposed to happen in it, what goes wrong with it, what we have no words or terms to designate, and so forth. Its "institutions"are then felt to be visibleonly at their outer limits, in those strange no-man's-landsin which people are no longer certain how to behave, and where, as in those ambiguous zones beyond either national jurisdiction, it is the feeling of being beyond the social order that suddenly allows us to grasp what the social order really was in the first place. Meanwhile,and in that spirit, the most characteristicraw materialsof such a research strategy will be drawn from what, in Riesman's old terminology, might be called the shame partsof a guilt-or anxiety-culture: hence what is so often felt to be the "morbidity" of ethnomethodology, its ostentatious selection of cases of intersexualism(Garfinkel), homosexual passing, the "Draculasyndrome" (e.g., colostomy patients who must periodicallyretire from public, in Lyman and Scott), physical stigma or "the managementof spoiled identity" (Goffman), etc. These interestsnot only illuminateareasof social life we do not know, or avoid thinking about, but also suggest an orientation which remainsoperativein the ethnomethodologicaldescriptions of "normal"everyday life as well, as may be seen from the whole area of face-to-face behavior which is in may ways Goffman's privileged object of study. Here too, we are unable to escape the feeling that the most revealing accounts of face-to face interaction are not offered by completed and thus normative examples of the latter, by demonstrations of interaction fully realized, as rather by deviations from that norm, by unsuccessful or only partly successful encounters, interactions that have somehow been shortcircuited or disrupted by misunderstanding,embarrassment,role confusion, breakingframe,and so forth. Goffman's works are of course punctuated by frequent disclaimersthat his

125 material is drawn only from our own society and that his findings are therefore not necessarilybinding on other social forms: but the admissionis not so much an invitation to comparativeresearchand to a more genuinely historical approach to his subject as it is a dismissal of those perspectives. Perhapsone may reintroducethem into the present discussionby way of an old paradox, namely the still disturbingnotion that life imitates art and that it is form (ProfessorGoffman's forms just as much as any others) which, far from reflectingcontent, cause it to come into being in the first place: in other words, when we have to do with phenomenaof consciousness,appearanceis a reality in its own right. It would follow, then, to choose an instance among just such "aborted" encounter situations, that if the older thought forms (philosophical systems, the nascent sociology of Auguste Comte, the moralizingwisdom of the era along with the beginningsof modernpsychology, the nomenclatureof everydayspeechjust as much as the novels of Balzac or Dickens) did not recognize embarrassmentas a social event in its own right-something it may be said to have become, not only in Goffman,but in Proustand Joyce, as well as in the other-directedsociety itself-then there is a sense in which this phenomenon may be said not yet to have existed in that period. When Lucien de Rubempre,a buddingpoet and social climber,whose mother is in reality a midwife, regalesan aristocraticsalon with the difficulties a literary genius finds in coming to birth, his subsequent discomfiture ("your excellent mother will be a greathelp to you") is not felt by Balzacto be interesting in itself, but is presented as proof of a conspiracy against Lucien and expressed as something like a figure or a weak drawing room equivalent of those "realer" events which are the duelling strike or the liquidation of a business adversary.Meanwhile,this same apparentlyfactual "kernel" of the phenomenon of embarrassmentwould surely prove to have an even more astonishinglydifferent reality amid the guffaws and the ritual humiliations of a primitive tribe. This is then the sense in which it may be said that Goffman's form itself invents or constructs reality, the example meanwhile admonishing us to correct this work through a constant historicization of its raw material, in such a way that what was presented as a proposition about social life in generalmay be reprocessedinto materialfor a diagnosisof this particularhistorical society alone. We are thus led to a closer examinationof the natureof that particularprobe of contemporarysocial life which is Goffman's form, and to a descriptionof the operations and procedureswhich allow him to abstractwhole dimensions from the concrete here-and-nowof contemporarylife. The formal problem involved in any such process of abstraction is of course that of giving the illusion (or arousing the conviction) that a "complete statement" has been made; in this case, however, since Goffman's objects are so intangible(not

126 only in the sense of being "psychological"or "phenomenological,"but also in that marginalityand transgressivenessreferredto above), the strategicpart of the operation is surely that of nomination, and few will question Goffman's immense talent for inventing new terms and new names for his newly constructedsocial objects. Indeed this part of his work strikes me as so symptomaticthat I am tempted to characterizethe latter as a kind of object lesson in the socialization of a private language, something that will probably seem offensive unless I add that this effort seems to me to be the drivingforce behind most of today's intellectual life (or at least, the "advanced"parts of it) and unless I rapidly sketch in a picture of that new historical and intellectual situation in which, some "primitiveaccumulation"stage of theory having been completed, the new skill of semiosis, or simultaneous translationfrom one code or private languageinto another, becomes the evolutionaryquality most necessary for survival.Jean Baudrillardhas indeed gone so far as to assertthat languagein this sharesthe transformationof the older capitalisminto somethingin which the classical "referent"-value in the case of commodities, meaning or the "signified" in the case of signs-is rapidly disappearing,creatinga dizzying and uninterruptiblecirculation in the void, both of media-commoditiesand of those empty "signifiers"which we have in this context termed private languages.3I would myself have preferredto stress the fragmentationof the publics, following upon the atomization and monadizationof contemporary society, and the increasinguncertaintyas to whether your own local "code" will be meaningfuldown the hall, let alone acrossthe border.At any rate, it is certain that the older-shall we call them referentialor realistic?-theoretical works which offered their theories as solutions to problemsat least ostensibly presentedby the materialitself are in the processof being replacedby a new kind of theoretical work-the meta-book-whose task is the invention of a theory about other theories, the construction of a master theory through which their apparent inconsistencies can be overcome, or, in the case of theories which do not contradict each other because they have no visible connection with each other at all, in whose largercontext they may be made fruitfully to interact for the first time. Frame Analysis is, happily, only a timid example of this kind of book, more fully developed in France, where the Anti-Oedipe of Deleuze and Guattarimay serveas the canonicalexample; it is at any rate in a context like this that the talent for inventingnew names and termsbecomes a majorintellectualstrength. It is, however,not enough to observethat the greaterpart of this new coinage of terminology has its origins in what I prefer to call "figures"ratherthan "metaphors" ("role," from the theatrical realm, and "frame" from the

127 semiotics of painting, are only two such figuralborrowings,to which we will return below): what is in many ways an even more crucial part of the operation is the defiguralizationof the term, the removalof its too obvious metaphoricaltraces, its transformationinto something neutraland scientific, but also personalized and marked,as it were, with that peculiarmixture of with-it Americanese and ironic distance which gives Goffman's style its distinction. This is what happens, for instance, in the construction of the concept of "keying," to my mind the most interestingnew figure of Frame Analysis: the notion of musicalkeys, of modulationand the like, is a familiar enough source of occasionalfiguresof speech, but to transformthe noun into a verb is to terrorize the reader into a conviction that the operation is something he and all the rest of us do all the time, and that there is no point pretending we don't know what the terms means (compare, e.g., the word "passing"used above). Meanwhile,the new concept is supported by a series of cross-referencesto analogous concepts in other disciplines, the most strikingbeing those drawnfrom the linguisticarea,which rangefrom Austin's performativeutterances and the more recent concept of the "code" all the way to Volosinov-Bakhtin'saccount of indirect discourse(style indirectlibre or erlebte Rede). These referencescertainly shed new light on the notion of keying, but I'm not sure that they are meant to do any more than to indicate the vast range of other fields to which the term "keying"might some day be relevant. Indeed, no effort is made to reach a theoretical synthesis of these various terms; rather,the existence of analogousterms in neighboringfields is itself the point to be made, suggesting, in that Zeitgeist atmosphere of modern theorization to which we have already referred, that the fact of a need for such a concept in other disciplinesamplyjustifies a similarconstruction in this one. Of course, the usefulness of the concept for Goffman is intrinsic and structural as well, for he needs a means of bringing identity or at least regularity into what is otherwise the flux of social experience, and this without falling back on the "natural"or common sense categoriesin use in daily life. Hence the idea of "a systematictransformation... acrossmaterials already meaningful in accordance with a schema of interpretation, and without which the keying would be meaningless"(p. 45). This does not quite eliminate the problem-unresolved in Frame Analysis-of some ultimate, "natural" reality that might be independent of social construction ("according to the definitions so far employed, the innermost part of a framed activity must be something that does or could have status as untransformed reality," p. 156-the italics are intended to draw attention to the prudenceof the formulation);still, the notion of "keying"certainlytends to displace our attention to the process of semiotic transformationand away from the materialsthus transformed.

128 At this point, then, we are offered, as might be expected, a whole range of illustrationswhich document the operationsof "keying"on all levels of daily life: Goffman divides his material into five general headings-make-believe, contests, ceremonials, technical redoings, and regroundings("the performance of an activity more or less openly for reasonsor motives felt to be radically different from those that govern ordinary actors," p. 74). The respective space allotted these variousexamples makes it clear that they do not interest the frame analyst equally: in particular, contests and ceremonials-conventionalizedto the point where an "original"is no longer present or necessary for imitation, and where therefore the process of semiotic transformationis itself either less strikingor rather different from that encountered elsewhere-would seem to spring from a type of social life-traditional and archaic, pre-media if not necessarily pre-capitalistqualitatively different from the present, late stage of capitalism which provides the bulk of Goffman's examples. Even when we limit ourselvesto the latter, however, it is hard to escape the impressionthat logical priorities have been reversedin the rhetoric of such a demonstration,and that it is not the concept of "keying"which is validatedby the difficultiesand problemsit can be shown to resolve, as rather the reverse, the various examples and illustrationsbeing useful merely to show how wide the rangeof applicability of this term or figureis; and, as in a dictionaryor grammarbook, to furnisha range of different but acceptable syntactical exercizes for the beginner to practice on. But this means that Frame Analysis is only apparently about social life; in reality, it is self-referentialand its deepest subjectis the validity of its own terminology.Thus the figureof "keying"provesin the long run to be its own example, and to validateits own meaningby showinghow much in the way of heterogeneousmaterialit can itself "key." Somethinglike this could be shown, I think, for all of Goffman'smajoressays or monographs;and our descriptionof his form might well have been ratified by the ultimate confirmationby pastiche, for it is not hard to imaginesome quasi-Goffmanianfigure-let us say, the notion of the boundary and the no-man's-land to which we had recourse earlier as the most transient metaphoricalexpression-which, parleyed into the status of a technical term, might then be illustrated in just the way described above, with material rangingfrom the uncertaintiesof everyday life to, say, the ritualof the Noh play. Before returning to our initial hesitation, however, and trying to determine whether Frame Analysis is to be thought of as one more figural monograph of this type, or whether it represents something like a new departure for Goffman, it seems appropriateto take note of an important variantin the form just describedand, if only for completeness'sake, to open up a new categoryor sub-categoryalongsideit.

129 This category would, to my mind, encompassall of those Goffmanianfigures which have remained linked to spatial experience, in which, therefore, the originalconcrete situation from which they were derivedpersistswith a kind of historical residuality, like an after-imageof the real. thus the concept of "framed space" is alreadylittle more than a figureof speech, by comparison with that of the "total institution" presentedin Asylums. The slippagefrom a real place (the more traditionalsociologicalinvestigationof Asylums) to that of semiotic or signifying space (as in the notion of the "frame"itself) is most clearly observable, perhaps, in what is to my mind the most tantalizingof Goffman'sindividualessays, on the so-called"Insanityof Place,"publishedin appendix and as though in after-thoughtto Relations in Public: here, for almost the first and last time in Goffman, the semiotic effects, the meaningconstruction, of the various "frames" of experience are anchored in the coercive realities of society itself as a concrete historical phenomenon, and the admirablepassionbreathedby this essay is comparableto that with which Michel Foucault has denounced the various forms of confinement (even though Goffman's indignation,like that of Foucault, ultimately expressesan ethicaljudgementon the social orderratherthan a political analysisof it). Frame Analysis constitutes a break with the earlieressays in precisely that feature to which we have attributed the originality of ethnomethodology in the first place, namely its transgressivestrategy;and the impatiencewith that older indirection, the ambition to achievethe monumentalityand the system of a positive statement, are surely not alien to the dissatisfactionwhich one may feel with the new work. For Frame Analysis, alone of Goffman's investigations,abondonsthe earlierexploration of marginalexperienceand of the malfunctioningof non-marginalsituations and institutions in an attempt to make a description, for the first time, of the functioning of those institutions and of the laws according to which everyday life is actually organized. The elaborate conceptuality of the "frame" is the result of this ambition to evolve abstractionswhich hold for all social situations, and do without those fragile links to concrete and historically determinate ones which were still present in transgressivephenomena. The semiotic thrust of the new work is clearly enough dictated by such aims: for, unable and probably unwilling to return to the older positive sociology of institutions and customs, Goffman can only evolve in the direction of the analysis of social meaning. Yet the contradictions in the new enterprise are to my mind nowhere so strikingly dramatizedas in the new kind of raw material which fills these pages. I must confess, indeed, that I found the constant streamof newspaper clippings, anecdotes, and believe-it-or-not happenings almost unbearably

130 tedious over several hundred pages; but the. issue is not my own personal reaction, but rather the question of whether this material is not in itself structurally quite different from that-case studies, anomalies, "morbid" phenomena sometimes no less anecdotal than what is found here-which provided the basis for the earlier monographs.It seems to me, indeed, no accident that Goffman's illustrationsare here increasinglydrawn from the realm-inauthentic above all others-of the fait divers and the media pseudoevent. At the very moment, in other words, when his analysis strives for its greatest degree of formalizationand semiotic generality,his content becomes irremediablytrivialized:nor can his use of this raw materialbe justified, as he tries disarminglyto do in his introduction (15-16), on the grounds of its "typification" or on the strength of its capacity to dramatize"the power of our conventionalunderstandingsto cope with the bizarrepotentials of social life, the furthest reaches of experience."For the fait diversis not a fact or an experience at all: it is a type of discourseand one peculiarlysymptomaticof the superstructureof present-day neo-consumerism4;so that it is to have been very particularlythe dupe of the referential or "realistic" illusion to have taken it for real content in the first place. Here perhaps more than anywhere else, then, Professor Goffman's choice of what we have characterized as ethnomethodology'ssemiotic, ratherthan its textual, strategy has played him false. This said, there is yet another fundamentalcontradictionat work in Frame Analysis, this time in the very development of its central figure: yet that contradictionmay perhapsbest be arrivedat througha brief characterization of what is strongest, both in Goffman's own semiotic turn and also in the structuralistideology itself to which it becomes thereby related. This is the polemic joined on the status of the "subject"or of individualconsciousness: a debate whose more notorious monumentsare Foucault'scelebrationof the "end of man" and Althusser'santi-humanism,but which can more soberly be characterizedas an inquiry into the degreeto which individualconsciousness or individualexistence may be consideredan intelligible field of study in its own right. The debate unites data from schizophreniaand the experience of drugswith that whole tradition of the "hermeneuticof suspicion" (Ricoeur) in which the instrumentsof demystification developed by Marx, Freud and Nietzsche find common ground in a devalorizationof the pretensionsof Reason or of the conscious mind: yet the historical and ideologicalforce of recent French attacks on the "philosophy of the subject," like those mentioned above, seems to me to find its proper context only when it is understood as a final and sometimes only imperfectly formulated attempt to liquidate the last

131 vestiges of bourgeois individualismitself and to prepare the basis for some new post-individualisticthought mode to come. Frame Analysis participatesin this effort to the degree to which its central conceptual instrument-that of the frameitself-offers a way of analyzingthe "phenomenological"materialof everydaylife in impersonalterms. Indeed, in this sense, we might reversethe terms of our previousargumentand suggest that what is wrong with the semiotic approachhere (as well as in some of its major Europeanpractitioners)is if anythingan insufficient formalization,the failure to go far enough precisely in dissolvingthe anthropomorphicvestiges of common-senseor surfacecategories,most notably that of the subject: so it is a disappointmentthat, for all its work in the area of narrativeanalysis, semiotics has continued to work with categoriesnot noticeably distinct from the older anthropomorphic common sense ones of the "character."5 Goffman's notion of the frame and Qf its function as the very organizerof social meaninggoes a long way towards suggestinga mode of analysiswhich would allow us to do without those "characters"who are the manipulated subjectsof present-daysocial happenings. But Frame Analysis is, in the area of the subject, even more instructivethan this: for in his closing pages the logic of Goffman's enterprizeleads him to that decisive discovery to which other contemporarythinkers-Lacan, Sartre, Girard,come to mind6 -have been led by very different avenuesof research, namely the revelation of the reality of the collective beneath the appearance of individualexperience, the disclosureof the individualsubject as a field of multiple forces, not a substance but a locus, a nexus, of sheer relationships. So it is that Goffman's inquiry into the formal elements that make up an interaction or an encounter leads to the discovery that what we used to call an individual is in reality the interplay and intersection of four different functions, "principal, strategist, animator and figure" (p. 523), whose complex operations among each other ultimately result in the phenomenological data of our social experience. Goffman resumeshis discoveryas follows: "Starting with the traditional notion of the individual as selfidentified with the figure he cuts duringordinaryinteraction, I have argued some frame-relevantgrounds for loosening the bond: that playfulness and other keyings may be involved which sharply reduce personalresponsibility; that often what the individualpresents is not himself but a story containing a protagonist who may happen also to be himself; that the individual's presumablyinward state can be shared around selectively, much as a stage performer manages to externalize the inner feelings of the character he enacts." (p. 541).

132 Such a passage,in which the unique strengthsof Goffman'swork are visible in heightenedand concentratedform, is not without offering some clues as to a fundamentalweakness as well, one which preventshim from developinghis discovery about the natureof the subjectinto new and unexploredareas,and deflects his argumentback into the now sterile terms of a long-deadpolemic (his attack on the false problemsof introspectivepsychology at the end of the previousparagraph).For the final contradictionof FrameAnalysis seems to me precisely this persistence, in the midst of the newly depersonalized languageof framingsand situations, of just that older, still anthropomorphic vocabulary of "roles" and theatrical performanceswhich formed the conceptual horizon of Goffman's first and still SartreanPresentationof Self in EverydayLife (1959). The concept of "role" was, indeed, a two-edged one, for in those days it could be turned precisely againstthe psychology of the "person"or subject, and be fully as much a force for demystificationas for a reinforcementof the anthropomorphicillusion. This can surely no longerbe the case today, where, at least in the United States, the rhetoricof role, game, performance,mask and drama,has become a whole ideology in its own right: thus the frequently suggestive appeals to the authority and example of theatricalhistory, throughoutFrame Analysis, have a curiouslyretrospective atmosphere about them, striking one ultimately as the researchnotes from some immense and never completed thesis on play-actingwhich was to have served as the philosophical basis for the older book on "roles". Here, the latter coexists uneasily with the new metaphor of the frame, and this uncertainty about the very figure around which the new book was to be organized is no minor flaw in a work whose attractivenesslies in the new figuresit promisesus.


1. Argonauts of the WesternPacific (New York, 1961), p. 10. 2. "Recently this neglected field-the field of public life-has begun to receive very active attention, this being an aspect no doubt of a complex unsettling expressed variously in the current unsafety and incivility of our city streets, the new political device of intentionally breaking the ground rules for self-expression during meetings and contacts, the change in rules of censorhip, and the social molestation encouraged in the various forms of 'encounter group' and experimental theater." Relations in Public (New York, 1971), pp. ix-x. 3. Pour une critique de l'economie politique du signe (Paris, 1972), esp. pp. 172-199. 4. See Roland Barthes, "Structure du fait divers," in Essais Critiques (Paris, 1964, also in English translation, 1972); and Georges Auclair, Le Mana quotidien: Structure et fonctions de la chronique des fait divers (Paris, 1970).

133 5. See, for an important critique of the category of "character," Frangois Rastier, Essais de semiotique discursive (Paris, 1973), pp. 185-206. 6. Sartre's "whirligigs," cf. Saint Genet (New York, 1971), pp. 333-353, Lacan's L-schema of the constitution of the subject, cf Ecrits (Paris, 1966), pp. 53, 548ff, Girard's "triangular mediation" of desire, cf. Deceit, Desire and the Novel (Baltimore, 1965) offer other examples of the "explosion of the subject" in contemporary psychology.

Theory and Society, 3 (1976) 119-133 ? Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam - Printed in the Netherlands

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