Many of us go through the day with an inner commentary in our heads. This ‘inner voice’ helps us in planning, criticizing or even encouraging ourselves. In performance, inner voices are introduced to the audience through ‘statements’ as with writing and body language or expressions as with performing arts. In ‘How To Do Things with Words’, Austin argues that how we phrase words express our inner voices. This is in the form of statements, even though some sentences are often construed as such when in fact they are not. On the other hand, Goffman, in his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, proposes that inner voices can often be seen from observing human interactions and expressions. Austin and Goffman suggest that sometimes, these inner voices are used to infer to certain behavior, making them a base for people to make decisions in everyday life. However, Austin and Goffman disagree with each other as the former argues that inner voices do not necessarily change, while the latter argues that they do indeed change depending on situations. This paper seeks to show how inner voices affect human behavior and their social interactions, as suggested by Erving Goffman.
Goffman proposes that one can generally assess an unknown person’s character by observing their behavior. According to the author, being face to face with the individual gives observers many sources of information from which they can learn that person’s character. Additionally, he suggests that people are actors, whose interactions with others decide their actions. William Power’s work ‘Behavior: The Control of Perception’ goes in line with Goffman’s theory as it relays how an organism cannot control its external environment’s variables. Rather, the organism controls its perceptions to that variable. Indeed, one can make a similar observation in the society. People tend to adapt their behavior according to the setting they are in. For instance, when attending an interview, one may assume the mien of a professional who knows all about the business they are interviewing for, without necessarily having any knowledge in it. The person may choose to fashion their answers according to their perception of what the interviewer seeks.
Observing human behavior exposes one to a lot of information about them. In Goffman’s book, he adds that the ‘real’ self of a person can be ascertained only indirectly through involuntary expressive behavior. However, some critics suggest that Goffman’s position in explaining human behavior is not conclusive in making inferences about character. Austin is one such author who theorizes that behavior can be determined through observing what people say. According to him, a person’s character is realized through his or her performative sentence, dubbed ‘a performative’. Austin argues that people use words to create an act. For example, “I give and bequeath my watch to my brother” in the case of a will, suggests that the person is not, in fact, describing what they are doing, but that the act is already done. In his suggestion, such sentences show the act itself and do not act to show whether it is true or false.
Looking at both theories, Goffman’s arguments carry more weight in determining human behavior. This is because people do tend to adapt to the situation at hand and sometimes provide information involuntarily. Austin’s argument also holds weight though lacks much conviction as the meaning of words usually tends to change over time. Both Goffman and Austin present compelling theories on the behavior of human beings. However, they differ on how character is perceived as one suggests that it is through situational adaptation, while the other proposes that it is through how people use words in certain situations. Goffman’s work holds more prevalence as people, especially today, tend to adapt their responses to the situation.
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