GoffmanPerformancePaper - Sociology 15 November 2007...

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Sociology 15 November 2007 Waiting and Goffman’s Performances, Teams and Regions (Q #1) In her engaging non-fiction novel Waiting , Debra Ginsberg relates the adventures, the ups and downs, and the life lessons involved in her 20-year experience as a waitress, sharing advice and giving insight not only into the inner workings of her profession, but into human behavior as well. Using Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life , it is possible to examine her experiences in sociological terms— specifically those terms dealing with his concepts of performances, teams, and regions. The two books prove to have much in common with each other, revealing the waiting profession as a sociological education in and of itself. The most common theme existing between Goffman and Ginsberg’s works is that of the theatrical metaphor. Goffman relates social performances to an actor on stage. To Ginsberg, a server’s livelihood relies on their ability to perform. Ginsberg generously uses theatrical references when recounting stories and sharing thoughts. She describes “every table [as] a captive audience, waiting to be entertained, fed, and satisfied”. (234) Ginsberg was even graded on her “performance” by employees of the restaurant disguised as customers and known as “spotters” (114). She likens the experience to an actor about to go on stage, saying, “After twenty years, the anticipation of going out to that uncertain audience still caused a butterfly flit. There wasn’t anything in the world quite like that moment of expectation, I realized.” (292) This similarity makes it much easier to apply Goffman’s terms to Waiting .
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Ginsberg switched restaurants often her career—a fairly typical occurrence—and each move meant a new region and a new team to become quickly and intimately acquainted with. Ginsberg uses a nearly exact Goffman’s terminology to describe the divisions in one of the first of many “regions” in which she was to play a part: I began noticing what else was going on around me in the kitchen (the “back of the house”) and in the dining room (the “front of the house”). This kitchen had a hierarchy I would see repeated in every subsequent restaurant. (Ginsberg 54) This concept of the front and back of the house is a key component in Goffman’s explanation of the region—he describes that “it will sometimes be convenient to use the term “front region” to refer to the place where the performance is given”(107). Ginsberg speaks of a hierarchy existing in the park’s restaurant and apparently in all
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GoffmanPerformancePaper - Sociology 15 November 2007...

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