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Goffman on Emotions: The Pride‐Shame System

Symbolic Interaction

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This essay proposes that Goffman's basic method was the intuitive recognition of generic examples of social interaction. This focus on examples, when considered from the point of view of two of Cooley's general propositions, helps explain the meaning of Goffman's metaphor of theatrical performance, and his insistence on the risk of shame in all interaction. These ideas make sense following Pascal's emphasis on the intuitive element in finding new knowledge, and Spinoza's part/whole idea. This latter approach leads to what will be called the Goffman/Cooley conjecture: we run the risk of shame in all human interaction. Although they didn't explain why, it seems that the pace of modern alienated societies punishes the mammalian urge that humans have for connectedness (pride) with others. These ideas seem to be supported by studies by Helen Lewis and Norbert Elias, and by my own recent study of Ngrams. As Elias's study proposed, virtually all shame is hidden in modern societies. The idea of hidden shame requires a new definition of shame that is quite different than vernacular usage.