Without knowing it, social order is very important in everyday life. As Elizabeth Silva says ‘social order is a key principle of living together’ (Reflections on Ordered Lives, 2009, Audio). The ordering of social life can be looked at in many ways. However, two theories stand out when looking at the making of social order, that of Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault. Both of these theories are concerned with how society is produced and, more specifically, how social order is made and remade. While the two theories aim to understand a broad picture of understanding society, they do so in very different ways. They both split the big questions down into smaller ones, Goffman looks at how an individual creates order, and Foucault looks at how discourse does. The two theories are both very different yet similar in many ways. This makes them interesting to compare and contrast, something this essay will aim to do.
Erving Goffman (1959, 1971 and 1972) developed several theories that aim to understand how social order is created. His main interest was with how people’s everyday interactions connected to the creating of social order. (Silva, 2009, p.316). Michel Foucault (1972, 1977 and 1978) was also interested in the making of social order; however he focused on the people who have what he called ‘authoritative knowledge’, and the people who put this knowledge to work in social institutions. Each of these theories attempts to answer their questions, they use the evidence they gathered to make claims and develop concepts and theories to understand how order is made in society. (Silva, 2009, p.319).
The questions that Goffman is concerned with are how people intuit the roles that they and others have to play, how do they know that in certain situations their role changes and how is social order made from people’s individual ‘performances’? He suggests that people perform ‘roles’ in different contexts, i.e. a shopper and salesperson, who both have been ‘given a role’ and both have to play their parts accordingly. On the other side, Foucault asks who has the power to dictate how society behaves and how is this behaviour organised, and by whom? Foucault argues that it is the people who have authoritative knowledge, particularly those in positions of power that create social order. Both of them want to know how social order is created, but Goffman wants to know how the individual creates it and Foucault wants to know who defines the rules that the individuals follow (DD101, Online Activity 23, 2009).
Both Goffman and Foucault want to understand how social order is made, and they both look at bigger ways in which to understand it. However, Goffman focuses on society at a micro level, to help him understand the bigger picture of how social order is created. His work is very much centred on the individual. Goffman believes that social order is created by everyone’s individual actions. He likens people’s everyday interactions to a stage, where the front of...