Expanding Goffman’s Realm: Robert Fuller on the Politics of Dignity

A New Goffman

- Robert W. Fuller’s Politics of Dignity


Thomas J. Scheff



The purpose of this chapter is to compare ‘facework’, a central theme in Erving Goffman’s writings, and Robert W. Fuller’s version of the same idea. Fuller’s approach covers much the same ground as Goffman but is interdisciplinary, much clearer and is equally applicable to social interaction and social structure. Particularly unlike Goffman, Fuller proposes applications to the real world.

Erving Goffman’s work is extraordinarily vital and important, but also an enigma. His work is complex, yet he seldom states an explicit thesis. When he does, the thesis offered is often misleading. How could that be? Vastly creative people seem to have two different sides, the creative giant and a much more conventional person, especially when it comes to assessing their own work. It has been suggested that Miguel de Cervantes was far from understanding his own masterpiece, Don Quixote. In the course of the argument, Simon Leys in a review goes on to make a more general point:


The closer a book comes to being a genuine work of art, a true creation fully alive with a life of its own, the less likely it is that the author had a full control and a clear understanding of what he wrote. D. H. Lawrence … summed this up …: ‘Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it’ (Leys 1998. p. 32).


Although Simon Leys and D. H. Lawrence were here referring to literature, their point also applies to academic scholarship. The most creative work does not arise entirely from calculated effort, but has a major intuitive component. In contemporary language, it comes from the right brain, light years more complex and original than the calculating left brain. The creative writer may be a mere channel for work that he or she does not fully understand. Can we save Goffman’s work from Goffman? In what follows, this question will be approached. Moreover, I will present Fuller’s perspective as an extension of and supplement to Goffman’s ideas on facework. The latter part of this chapter will propose how Fuller’ work shares some of Goffman’s strengths while avoiding some of his weaknesses.


The Two Goffmans

Erving Goffman’s scholarship is extraordinarily brilliant, but his pronouncements on its meaning are unreliable. Despite his freewheeling writing style, or perhaps because of it, he insists that his work is highly specialized and technical, like any conventional academic effort. His specialization, he claims, takes three different forms. First, his approach is sociological rather than psychological. He calls it ‘dramaturgic’, concerning only the socially scripted parts of the human drama rather than the actors.

His second specification is closely related: his field of study is social interaction rather than the individual, on the one hand, or social structure, on the other. Both specifications align him with conventional rather than revolutionary scholarship. Like most scholars, he claims loyalty to a discipline and to a special conceptual approach: dramaturgy.

Finally, Goffman insisted that his interests are scholarly, not aimed at practical application. This particular claim, unlike the other two, seems quite accurate. He wanted his scholarship to be pure in this respect, without the possible taint of attempting to apply it. As he wrote in several different ways, he saw his job as observing rather than changing the world.

With regard to his first claim, it is true that Goffman’s writing is more concerned with social interaction than social structure. Yet, some of his books and articles involve both. Asylums (1961), for example, and his articles on mental illness imply many features of the social institution of mental illness without claiming to do so. Some of his later work, such as Gender Advertisements (1979), does not involve social interaction at all, but blatantly concerns only the institution of female gender implied by commercial ads.

Goffman’s claim that all of his work is purely dramaturgic is also misleading. In this vein, his best known book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), has a split personality. The early chapters outline and illustrate his dramaturgic approach: a sociology of outer behaviour. But the middle section, ending with the lengthy Chapter 6 on ‘impression management’, is mostly concerned with the inner life. Surprisingly, the last chapter returns to dramaturgy with no mention of the inner battles described and profusely illustrated in the middle of the book. The right hand knowth not what the left hand doeth.

In his considerable writings on face and facework, perhaps his central theme, Goffman’s ‘Everyperson’ is virtually always struggling to manage the impressions others have of her or him in order to maintain face. When management fails, as it often does, the ‘Everyperson’ may resort to emotion management, trying to avoid the pain of embarrassment. In Goffman’s analysis of facework, the individual’s internal struggles share the stage with the social interaction in which they are embedded. Here is one of many examples:


Knowing that his audiences are capable of forming bad impressions of him [1], the individual may come to feel ashamed [2] of a well-intentioned honest act merely because the context of its performance provides false impressions that are bad. Feeling this unwarranted shame, he may feel that his feelings can be seen [3]; feeling that he is thus seen, he may feel that his appearance confirms [4] these false conclusions concerning him. He may then add to the precariousness of his position by engaging in just those defensive manoeuvres that he would employ were he really guilty. In this way it is possible for all of us to become fleetingly for ourselves the worst person we can imagine that others might imagine us to be (Goffman 1959:236; numbering added).


This excerpt mainly concerns a sequence of internal events, spelling out four moment-by-moment thoughts and feelings. As it happens, this example, and many others in Goffman’s work, are the concrete instances of the ‘looking-glass self’ process that Charles Horton Cooley (1902) failed to supply. Unlike Goffman, Cooley’s emphasis was entirely on the inner life. However, as already indicated, there are many limitations to Goffman’s work, especially in the area of application to the individual and social structure (see Scheff 2005).


Goffman’s World: Its Strengths and Limitations

In his work, Goffman used the word ‘face’ in the sense of ‘saving face’ and ‘losing face’, vernacular phrases. Like most ordinary usages that refer to social and emotional process, these phrases involve a simple physical metaphor applied to a complex situation. Goffman went on to invent a new word based on these phrases: ‘facework’. The use of new words like facework, and the use of vernacular words like face in a new way is very characteristic of Goffman’s overall approach to social science. What are the advantages and disadvantages of his approach?

After introducing the new concept of facework, Goffman went on to invent various aspects of face and facework. As John Lofland (1980:29) has pointed out, the first three pages of Goffman’s article on facework proposes:


3 types of face

4 consequences of being out of or in the wrong face

2 basic kinds of face work

5 kinds of avoidance processes

3 phases of the corrective process

5 ways an offering can be accepted


Although Lofland’s comments about the idea of facework are highly appreciative, he is at a loss to understand the meaning of these 22 further items, since no further use is made of them in the article or in Goffman’s subsequent work.

Goffman started afresh in each book, not only not explicitly relating his new ideas to his old ones, but not even taking note of them. This practice gives rise to some confusion as to Goffman’s intent. How is his approach useful and what are its limitations?


Goffman’s Main Strengths

Goffman’s work encompassed and exposed three major strengths: First, it provided a new vocabulary: Goffman was an incredibly perceptive observer of the microworld of social interaction. He created a vocabulary for uncovering this world, otherwise virtually invisible in modern societies. Second, it was concerned with emotions: most of Goffman’s descriptions of interaction represented or at least implied emotions as well as thought and action. In this respect, they were three-dimensional, arousing the reader’s emotions, sympathy and understanding. This approach remedies a great failing of most current social science, which tends to be two-dimensional because it leaves out emotions. Third, his work contributed to trope-clearing: the trope (dominant metaphor) that he most often attacked was the Western conception of the self as an isolated, self-contained individual. He offered an alternative conception: the self as an aspect of social and cultural arrangements. His attack on individualism is one example of his deconstruction of basic tropes in our society: mental illness, gender, language and many of the conventions of current social science. His trope-clearing is highly dramatic and entertaining, but it also exaggerates his case (see also Scheff 2006:15-32).

Goffman’s deconstructions made his work controversial, but also give it revolutionary potential. He followed the tradition of Alfred North Whitehead, Arthur Koestler, Alfred Schutz and Karl Mannheim in order to create a new social science culture. In this respect, I propose that his work might serve as a model not only for the study of his field, the interaction order, but for all of social science. Goffman dealt with primitive conceptual tasks, preliminary to theory, method and evidence that clear the way for social science.


1. A Vocabulary for the Microworld

Goffman’s first gift, widely agreed upon by commentators, is that he was an incredibly perceptive observer of the microworld of social interaction. He saw and called our attention to a world that surrounds us, but one that we usually do not notice. Goffman, however, noticed the riches of activity in the microworld, and invented a panoply of terms and phrases to describe them. Certainly the idea of facework is one such invention. Also frequently quoted: impression management, situational improprieties, the interaction order, cooling the mark, frames (in the special sense in which Goffman used the term), role distance, alienation from interaction, footing, and many others. These terms have come to be irreplaceable for those who want to understand mundane experience in everyday life.


2. Emotions in the Microworld

There is a second feature of Goffman’s work that is less obvious: unlike most social scientists, he often included emotions as well as thoughts and action in descriptions of his actors. However, this feature is more difficult to establish than the first one. An immediate sticking point is that most of Goffman’s explicit treatment of emotions mainly concerns one emotion, namely embarrassment. This emotion plays a central part in his studies, especially the earlier ones, both explicitly, and in much larger scope, by implication. But why only one emotion? What about other primary emotions, such as love, fear, anger, grief, and so on? To the average reader, the virtually exclusive focus on embarrassment seems arbitrary.

Explicitly, Goffman gave only one justification. He argued that embarrassment had universal, pancultural importance in social interaction:


Face-to-face interaction in any culture seems to require just those capacities that flustering seems to destroy. Therefore, events which lead to embarrassment and the methods for avoiding and dispelling it may provide a cross-cultural framework of sociological analysis (Goffman 1956:266).


Beyond these considerations, there is another, broader one that is implied in Goffman’s ideas, particularly the ideas of facework and impression management. Most of his work implies that every actor is extraordinarily sensitive to the exact amount of deference he or she is receiving from others. Even a slight difference between what is expected and what is received, whether the difference is too little or too much, can cause embarrassment and other painful emotions.

In an earlier article, I followed Goffman’s lead by proposing that embarrassment and shame are primarily social emotions, because they usually arise from a threat to the bond, no matter how slight or imaginary. In my view, the degree of social connectedness, of accurately taking the viewpoint of the other, is the key component of social bonds (Scheff 2000).

A discrepancy in the amount of deference conveys or at least can be taken to imply judgement, and so is experienced as a threat to the bond. The discrepancy may even be completely imaginary, but it still gives rise to embarrassment. Other emotions such as grief, fear, anger, guilt and so on also figure in interaction, but not continuously. Since the perception of even a slight discrepancy, real or unreal, in deference is automatically sensed, embarrassment or the anticipation of embarrassment would be a virtually continuous presence in interaction.

In most of his writing, Goffman’s ‘Everyperson’ was constantly aware of her or his own standing in the eyes of others, implying almost continuous states of self-conscious emotions: embarrassment, shame, humiliation, and in rare instances, pride, or anticipation of these states. Their sensitivity to the eyes of others makes Goffman’s actors seem three-dimensional, since they embody not only thought and behaviour, but also feeling (‘hand, mind, and heart’).


3a. Deconstructing the Self

Goffman’s basic method was to deconstruct the assumptive reality of our society. The most prominent example of this method was his attack on the social institution of the self-contained individual. This institution was also repeatedly challenged by Norbert Elias throughout his writings, but especially in his essay on ‘homo clausus’ (the myth of the closed, self-contained individual) is this evident (Elias 1998). Sociological social psychology, in so far as it is derived from the work of George Herbert Mead (1934), also challenges this conception. Herbert Blumer (1986) was particularly forceful in this regard.

Goffman’s challenged any perspective that isolates individuals from the social matrix in which they function. This challenge was not limited to psychiatry and medicine – its most obvious targets – it pervades virtually all of his writing. Although Goffman allowed some freedom to the individual through ‘role distance’, his basic theme was that the self was more or less an image cast by social arrangements:


The self … is not an organic thing that has a specific location, whose fundamental fate is to be born, to mature and die; it is a dramatic effect arising diffusely from a scene that is presented (Goffman 1959:252-253).


The self … can be seen as something that resides in the arrangements prevailing in a social system for its members. The self in this sense is not a property of the persons to whom it is attributed, but dwells rather in the pattern of social control that is exerted in connection with the person by himself and those around him. This special kind of institutional arrangement does not so much support the self as constitute it (Goffman 1961:168).


The proper study of interaction is not the individual and his psychology, but rather the syntactical relations among acts of different persons mutually present to one another … not, then, men and their moments. Rather, moments and their men (Goffman 1967:3).


This last passage, because of its inclusion of the idea that the social scene involves persons mutually present for one another, invokes the kind of social sharing of consciousness central to Goffman’s focus on embarrassment described above. The idea of selves arising out of the social sharing of consciousness had been presaged by literary masters, such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf. In the words of Joyce Carol Oats: “[James and Woolf’s] … basic assumption [was] that the individual’s identity is gained only through participation in a complex field of other individuals’ consciousnesses” (Oats 1974:33).


3b. Deconstructing Social Reality

There is yet another, broader dimension to Goffman’s legacy, one at the most elemental level. I propose that the central thrust of Goffman’s method was toward creating free-floating intelligence in social science. Although Goffman himself made no such claim, his work sought to demonstrate, each time anew, the possibility of overthrowing cultural assumptions about the nature of reality.

Goffman’s primary goal may have been the development of a reflexive social science. Most of the appreciative reviews of Goffman’s work invoke the idea of reflexiveness, but only in passing. These commentators do little to explain what they mean by the term, nor do they explain its implications for current social science. Was Goffman attempting a reflexive sociology, one that would create a new culture for social science?

Goffman never clearly explained the overall point of his studies. His descriptions of the meaning of his work were almost comically laconic. He as well as others have clearly made the point that he was trying to achieve ‘perspective by incongruity’. To find more substantial ground, one needs to look at some of his statements about actors in general. In one of his early statements he said that “any accurately improper move can poke through the thin sleeve of immediate reality” (Goffman 1961a, p. 81). Although this passage is not self-referential, it could also be applied to Goffman’s own basic method, if we can understand what he meant by an ‘accurately improper move’ and ‘the thin sleeve of immediate reality’. The meaning of an improper move is easy; one that violates the assumptions of one’s audience. The idea of improper moves that are accurate is harder to pin down. The philosopher of science Alfred North Whitehead wrote:


A clash of doctrines is not a disaster – it is an opportunity … In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat; but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory (Whitehead 1962:266-267).


Goffman’s method of investigation was to engineer a continuing clash between the taken-for-granted assumptions in our society and his incongruous metaphors and propositions. Most improper moves merely embarrass the actor and/or those near her. But by framing a viewpoint that exactly contradicts commonly held assumptions, Goffman was developing what Arthur Koestler (1967) called bisociation – seeing phenomena simultaneously from two contradictory viewpoints. Like Whitehead, Koestler thought that all creativity arose from the collision of such contradictory viewpoints.

Devising a phrase or sentence that is ‘accurately improper’ in this sense would seem to be a formidable task. One must first hit upon an important commonly held assumption, then exactly counter it with an equally plausible assumption. It would depend, like writing poetry, on deep intuition rather than logical analysis. Goffman was awash with this kind of intuition.

Goffman’s idea of ‘alienation from interaction’ similarly helps explain what he meant by an improper move. Once again, he did little to apply this idea to his own work. What he meant was that those actors who behave improperly, breaking the rules, not only become alienated from whatever transaction they are involved in, but also might catch an enlightening glimpse of the nature of that transaction, that is, a glimpse of another reality behind the conventional one. Peter K. Manning, in passing, makes a similar point:


His [technique] is not simply a matter of convenience or artifice. It would appear to be a deliberate choice of weapons by which to assail the fictional facades that constitute the assumptive reality of conventional society (Manning 1980:263).


Goffman seems to have been trying to free himself and his readers from the culturally induced reality in which he and they were entrapped, by making ‘accurately improper’ moves.

Moreover, the idea of an assumptive reality is a necessity for appreciating Goffman’s approach. This phrase stands for the total perspective on what is real that is held in common in each society. As it happens, there is no generally agreed upon term for this perspective. Émile Durkheim’s usage, ‘collective consciousness’, comes close, but it seems to leave out the collective unconscious, and it does not give enough emphasis on the substantive content. Similarly, the term used by mystics, ‘the great cloud of unknowing’ is evocative, but it is also partial. It leaves out the ‘knowing’ part of assumptive realities.

Pace postmodernity, one can never be completely free of cultural perspectives. There is no place to stand that does not require linguistic and cultural assumptions. Karl Mannheim’s (1951) point about ‘free-floating intellectuals’ was that they were not completely free, but free relative to the attitude of everyday life, which is completely entrapped, like the great majority of the members of any society. Being able to see any phenomena from more than one perspective is a great advantage for innovators of any kind, but it is also fairly rare. Goffman seemed to have achieved sufficient velocity to escape from some parts of the assumptive world of our society. Following in Goffman’s footsteps, Robert W. Fuller offers a further avenue for escaping from, and therefore better understanding, the world of everyday life.


The Struggle for Dignity

Robert W. Fuller’s approach to what he calls ‘rankism’ and to dignity may be a first step toward a language equally applicable to individuals and to social relationships. It is based on two fundamental dichotomies: dignity-humiliation, and legitimate versus abusive use of rank, i.e. ‘rankism’ (Fuller 2003, 2006; Fuller and Gerloff 2008). Evelin G. Lindner’s work (2006) is also based on the dignity-humiliation dichotomy but does not include the concept of rankism. As will be discussed below, some such concept is needed in order to distinguish between true and false solidarity.

Fuller cites Erving Goffman dutifully in his first book (Fuller 2003:161). Even though his analysis of dignity and humiliation is exactly parallel to Goffman’s analysis of facework, my sense is that Fuller arrived at his approach independently of Goffman. Fuller’s analysis of whether or not dignity is maintained or lost parallels Goffman’s impression management and Fuller’s humiliation is equivalent to Goffman’s embarrassment.

Fuller’s analysis begins with the subjective feeling of being either a ‘Nobody’ or a ‘Somebody’. Surely, this idea arose because of the extraordinary path that his own life took. During what can be identified as his first career, he rose through the ranks from a ‘Nobody’ to a ‘Somebody’: beginning as a physicist at University of Columbia, then moving to Dean of the Faculty at Trinity College, and then becoming president of his alma mater, Oberlin College. During his stint as an educator, which spanned the tumultuous years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Fuller’s interests shifted from physics to issues of social justice.

After leaving Oberlin, he found a role for himself as an unaffiliated, citizen diplomat during the Cold War, and ended as Chair of the Board of the global organization Internews, which fosters free and independent media in emerging democracies. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fuller looked back reflectively on his career and understood that he had been, at different junctures in his life, a ‘Somebody’ and a ‘Nobody’. He thought that in less extreme forms, these kinds of gyrations might be common to many. His periodic sojourns into ‘Nobodyland’ led him to consider social relationships both in the small and the large.

For example, in intimate relations, falling in and out of favour with our nearest and dearest might be a similar experience (see Fuller’s treatment of parent-child relationships in Fuller 2003:110-113). At times these shifts are obvious, but often they can be based only on subtle changes in mood and gesture. Fuller’s first book Somebodies and Nobodies (2003) begins with the basic idea that we all move back and forth between ‘Somebody’ and ‘Nobody’ feelings, up, down, and around.

Fuller’s second step is to name the more general feelings that are associated with those specific to ‘somebodiness’ or ‘nobodiness’: dignity goes with feeling like a ‘Somebody’, humiliation with feeling like a ‘Nobody’. As already indicated, this step is exactly parallel to Goffman: saving face maintains one’s dignity, while losing it can lead to humiliation. Goffman’s and Fuller’s ‘Everyperson’ is in a constant struggle to maintain her or his face/dignity, but impression management often fails, leading to embarrassment or humiliation. Both authors allow that one can also manage impressions not only for one’s own sake, but also for the sake of the dignity of others. This proviso turns out to be important in practical application to the politics of dignity.

The next and final step in Fuller’s model is the distinction he makes between ‘rank’ and ‘rankism’. ‘Rankism’ does not concern rank per se, only the abuse of rank. Some systems of rank are inherently arbitrary and therefore abusive, e.g. white over black, male over female, hetero over homosexual, Christian over Muslim, one nation over another, and so on. But even legitimate systems, such as those in organizations, are often abusive; if not in principle, then in practice. Rankism is ‘pulling rank’ rather that being fair and appropriately respectful.

One of the main advantages of Fuller’s approach – compared to Goffman’s – is that it provides a distinctively sociological solution to the problem of inequality. That is, it does not concern economic rank or political hierarchy directly, but dignity and its opposite, humiliation. The idea of the legitimate and abusive use of rank also turns out to be important for distinguishing two different types of feeling ‘Somebody’, a true and a false solidarity. This distinction, as will be suggested below, may help solve a problem that probably cannot be understood in strictly economic or political terms: gratuitous and/or interminable conflict.

Fuller and Pamela A. Gerloff’s (2008) analysis of inequality begins with what they call ‘micro-inequalities’, the withholding of dignity by one person from another. At work, if the boss continually interrupts conversations with you to take phone calls, it is a slight, a small indignity. But such slights add up, even if they are quite subtle. If they happen often enough, one might feel like a ‘Nobody’. The boss may not intend it, but to be frequently slighted is humiliating.

Goffman was mainly concerned only with face-to-face interaction, but Fuller extends the dignity/humiliation process up to the traditional problem of macro-inequalities between groups. All contacts between persons and between groups have an effect on the bond: it is either maintained, strengthened or disrupted. Helping the other person or group maintain their dignity maintains the existing bond or strengthens it. Rankism disrupts it. There are no exceptions: contact cannot occur without affecting the bond. Secure bonds lead to cooperation, disrupted ones to conflict. When the bond is entirely broken by rankism, as is often the case, others, even vast groups, can become mere objects.

Fuller’s approach is powerful in several different ways. It is applicable to many ostensibly different fields: race, inter-ethnic and inter-nation relations, gender, sexual orientation, social class and so on. Rankism is the general term for many different kinds of abuse.

Fuller’s approach also implies a theory that may explain gratuitous and/or interminable conflict between individuals and between groups. For example, the Serbian attack on the Moslems in Bosnia in the 1990s can be traced back to a defeat of the Serbs by Moslem Turks hundreds of years earlier. The Serbs took this ancient defeat as a humiliation and harboured vengeance until it became possible. Similarly, France plotted for many years to regain their honour (read dignity) after defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and Adolf Hitler won over the German people by promising to regain the honour they lost in the defeat in 1918 (Lindner 2006; Scheff 1994). Humiliation spawns humiliation, and it can strike deep. The dignity/humiliation framework seems to reach into the very core of human conduct.


Defining Social Integration

Apart from providing a perspective on social inequality at the micro-level, Fuller’s approach also implies a unique path into the study of social integration. Feeling like a ‘Somebody’ or a ‘Nobody’ can be used as a subjective indicator. The ‘Somebody’ feeling can be taken as a signal of mutual acceptance, having an identity that is fully accepted by the other(s). A complication in the path toward solidarity will be discussed below. The ‘Nobody’ feeling, however, can be taken as a direct signal of alienation, of feeling rejected by the other(s). This usage might be a preliminary step toward clarifying the concept of social integration.

There is a difficulty in seeing solidarity/alienation as a simple dichotomy that Fuller does not address directly, yet his idea of rankism provides for it. Many authors have noted that mutual acceptance occurs in two different forms, one of which is not true solidarity.

There is a form of mutual acceptance that is sometimes referred to as solidarity, but has only its outward appearance. This form involves one or both parties giving up vital parts of their own identity in order to be completely loyal to the relationship. The traditional marriage is an example; the wife subordinates her own needs and views to those of her husband. In family systems theory (Bowen and Kerr 1988), this type of relationship is referred to as a fused or engulfed bond. The opposite relationship, in which one party subordinates the needs of the other(s) to their own, is termed isolated. In a secure bond, both parties give equal value to their own needs and views and those of the other, over the long haul. Norbert Elias (1987) made the same division: he called solidarity “interdependence,” being neither dependent (engulfed) nor independent (isolated). Note that the concept of engulfment further develops the idea of alienation from self that Karl Marx mentioned without explaining what he meant.

Fuller’s idea of rankism is relevant to the issue of engulfment as a false solidarity. All forms of mutual acceptance that are based on rankism, the arbitrary disparagement of another person or group, are not forms of true solidarity, but engulfment. Mutual acceptance of whites because they are not black, or gentiles because they are not Jews, of males because they are not women, are all instances or rankism and therefore of false solidarity.

The distinction between isolation and engulfment suggests that alienation occurs in two opposite forms: alienation from others (isolation) and from self (engulfment). This idea also requires that a secure bond (solidarity) maintains a long-term balance between self and other: one identifies with the needs and viewpoint of the other(s) as much as with self, no less and no more. Genuine love can be defined as a type of solidarity (see Scheff 2006, Chapter 6). The late Robert Solomon wrote:


Love [is] shared identity, a redefinition of self … Two people in a society with an extraordinary sense of individual identity [find] their way into a relationship that can no longer be understood as a mere conjunction of the two but only as a complex ONE (Solomon 1981:xxx; see also Solomon 1994:234-238).


This kind of definition of love has been offered by many authors, but like Solomon, they usually fail to include the balance between too far (isolation) and too close (engulfment) as explained above. An exception was the social psychiatrist Harry S. Sullivan (1945) who suggested that love involves valuing the other as much as self, but neither more or less.

It is important to distinguish between true and false solidarity, since both social science and ordinary language often confound them. Most Western scholarship that compares Asian and Western societies have idealized Western isolation and individualism by confounding it with solidarity based on rational outcomes (e.g. Émile Durkheim’s description of organic solidarity), as Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama (1991) have charged. But it seems likely that they have made an equal and opposite error, idealized Asian (unity-based) societies by confounding engulfment with solidarity. Robin Norwood’s (1985) women who loved too much provide an example of engulfment. Many of them reported that they stayed with their abusive husbands because they loved them too much to leave. Their language confuses engulfment, in this case, passive dependency, with genuine love, a true solidarity. Fuller’s approach avoids this and many other problems that will, however, not be touched upon here.



This chapter has reviewed Erving Goffman’s approach to social psychology, pointing out its main strengths and weaknesses, with special emphasis on his analysis of facework. Moreover, the chapter has delineated some of the perspectives proposed by Robert W. Fuller who follows in the footsteps of Goffman but also takes his ideas further. Fuller’s politics of dignity has many advantages over Goffman’s analysis. It implies a new approach to defining the poles of social integration: alienation and solidarity. It also suggests an accessible theory of the origin of the causal chains that lead to inequalities and to violence, both at the interpersonal and group levels. Unlike many abstract social theories, Fuller’s is so clearly stated that it might help resolve many theoretical knots, and can also be tested empirically. To the extent that it is supported, it can be applied to solving real world problems.

Fuller’s work parallels Goffman’s, but modifies and extends it in a way that might represent a major step forward in social science. As the chapter has shown, Fuller’s writing parallels Goffman’s on facework but it is clearer and broader. Goffman’s theses are often unclear and claim to be narrowly limited to outer behavior in the microworld of social interaction. Like Goffman, Fuller traces the emotional consequences of losing face in humiliation/embarrassment, but unlike Goffman, he gives equal consideration to dignity, that is, to justified pride. Also unlike Goffman, Fuller’s work implies a step toward conceptualizing social integration, the typology of solidarity and alienation. He proposes that rank need not be alienating if rankism (the abuse of rank) is avoided. Fuller applies these ideas to the macro problems of inequality and intractable conflict. Further, and contrary to Goffman, he explores their application to changing the real world. In many ways, Fuller can be seen as a new Goffman.



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