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Keywords:

  • advanced consumer capitalism;
  • Goffman;
  • Gender Advertisements;
  • mass media;
  • self

Abstract

The authors argue that Erving Goffman developed concepts that contribute to an understanding of historical changes in the construction of the self and enable us to see the new forms that self-construction is taking in a society driven by consumption, marketing, and media. These concepts include: commercial realism; dramatic scripting; hyper-ritualization; the glimpse; and the dissolution or undermining of the real, the authentic, and the autonomous. By placing Goffman's under-discussed work, Gender Advertisements, in rapprochement with the work of Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, and Fredric Jameson, we draw out shared concerns over the ways that the self becomes externally defined and incoherent in advanced consumer capitalism. We then turn to Goffman's “Territories of the Self” (in which Goffman discusses the self in terms of the spatial concepts of “preserves” and “markers”) in order to show that Goffman balances his historicist analysis with a theory of a self that can maintain its coherence amidst the fragmenting forces of the media and the consumer society. Thus we document the continuing relevance of Goffman's thought for cultural and media analysis in contemporary consumer society.