No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Behavior in Public Places

Goffman, E. (1963), Behavior in Public Places - Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings, New York: The Free Press. 

Erving Goffman's book "Behavior in Public Places" focuses on the conduct of individuals in public places, specifically in regards to communicative acts and their regulation.

The book discusses three basic social units:

1. face-to-face encounters,

2. social occasions, and

3. social gatherings.

The book suggests that individuals' behavior in public is guided by a set of rules, called situational proprieties, which govern the allocation of the individual's involvement within the situation and express through a conventionalized idiom of behavioral cues. The book also argues that the symptomatology of "mentally ill" individuals may have more to do with the structure of public order than with the nature of disordered minds.

Goffman suggests that when people are in the presence of others, they are guided by a special set of rules that govern how they interact with each other and that this creates a "little social system" among those present. Situational proprieties are different from social role obligations. Therefore, the study of situational obligations requires a different conceptual adjustment than the study of social role obligations, as the individual's place within an organization may not have a one-to-one relation to their place within a face-to-face interaction.

Individuals use proprieties to express their relationship to a community or social establishment, but the idiom mainly available for this expression is designed to express attachment or alienation to social gatherings and social occasions. An individual's conduct can be seen as an impropriety that pertains to the social occasion in question, and all those present, and only those present, are the immediate recipients of the offense.

Goffman argues that social rules that the situational proprieties are crucial to individuals' fundamental judgments of others, and failure to conduct oneself properly is often seen as a lack of pride or self-respect. The individual often follows these rules with little thought, but the embarrassment caused by acting improperly or catching others doing so can be surprisingly deep. The rules of conduct are crucial for one's attachment to and detachment from social gatherings, and social occasions. More than any other unit of social organization, the individual belongs to gatherings and failure to conduct oneself properly can result in harsh penalties, such as being placed in asylums, to protect the gatherings and social occasions.

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