Erving Goffman: Role Distance, and the Construction of Identity

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The creation of distance, of space, between the performer and performance, what Goffman calls Role Distance is one of the most important aspects of his conceptual framework. By noticing the importance of Role Distance Goffman is able to situate the concept of Identity within a single coherent structure. In this structure identity is not preconceived or presupposed but constructed. Identity becomes a product of the performance. Identity here is not defined by the role alone, allowing in this way for manipulation and detachment to be part of the field of analysis. In doing so he uses the concept of role distance which enables him to account for behavior that may, at first sight,
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To embrace the role is to let oneself be defined by the existing definition. In this sense to “embrace a role is to be embraced by it” (Ibidem).

On the other side of the spectrum then appears Role distance. This occurs when the performer denies the (virtual) self that the role implies and demands. In distancing from the role an active manipulation of the situation takes place. Signs of irreverence, mock, etc., are meant to show detachment from the role. It is the individual’s attachment (detachment) to the role what is viewed under the perspective of role distance. Role distance is perceived within the given situation, it is perceived as part of the performance displayed. The performance, it can be said, can be “styled to show that one is somewhat out of place” (TGR; 38). However it must be noticed that role distance is not meant as a complete rejection of the role, and also not as the incapacity to perform the role. The definition of the situation, the key factor behind role playing, is maintained while distancing from the role. Role distance, as an active endeavor of the individual, tells us that the performer “organizes his expressive situational behavior in relation to situated activity roles” […] and “in doing so he uses whatever means are at hand to introduce a

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