Why Do We Behave as Other Expect Us to?

Summary of the Theory

Admittedly, individuals’ behavior and even appearance is often shaped by conventions existing in the society. People often act in order to fit the situation. This peculiarity of the human being can be explained with the help of micro-sociological theory.

Calhoun et al. (2007) note that Goffman is one of the major micro-sociologists. He developed his theory on the basis of Durkheim’s social theory which focused on large-scale phenomena. Goffman analyzed these phenomena in terms of their manifestation in interpersonal interactions. Thus, Goffman focused on the “presentation of self in everyday life” (Calhoun et al., 2007, p. 26). This sociologist suggests that people tend to dramatize their behavior so that they can fit the society.

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Notably, this theory has developed out of structural functionalism which regards the society as a system which affects individuals. By contrast, micro-sociological theory has focused on individuals who affect the society in their turn (Calhoun et al., 2007).

Micro-sociologists have analyzed peculiarities of interaction between individuals. For instance, Goffman (2007) concluded that people often wear masks and dramatize their behavior. Interestingly, the researcher claims that people can do this almost subconsciously.

It goes without saying that such an approach can help to answer the major question of the present paper: Why do people behave as others expect them to? The present theoretical framework focuses on individuals’ behavior which is affected by conventions existing in the society.

Therefore, the micro-sociological theory unveils basic principles of interactions between individuals. More so, micro-sociologists provide illustrative examples which support theoretical claims. Admittedly, the theory which is supported by particular real-life examples is applicable when addressing an issue concerning interactions between individuals.

Key Concepts and Theoretical Strategy

Micro-sociological analysis can be regarded as a comprehensive approach which focuses on explaining actions taking into account social structure.

In other words, micro-sociologists try to explain people’s behavior with the help of such external factors as social conventions, environment, etc. Thus, Turner (2010) provides several factors which influence individuals’ behavior, e.g. culture, roles, status, demographic, motivations, emotions, and even ecology.

However, the major focus of the micro-sociological theory is people’s behavior. Remarkably, micro-sociologists also claim that people’s behavior, in its turn, affects the social structure. Thus, micro-sociologists are interested in both action and social structure.

Nonetheless, as far as the level of analysis is concerned, the theory addresses the individual. For instance, Macionis and Plummer (2008) stress that micro-sociologists focus on the individual’s behavior. A particular person is often in the center of the micro-sociologist’s research. These examples are then tessellated to draw a major picture of the society paying attention to various mechanisms and causal relationships.

Causal Relationships

It is necessary to point out that micro-sociologists pay a lot of attention to causal relationships as these mechanisms help to deeper analyze people’s behavior. For instance, Goffman (2007) states that people often dramatize their actions and idealize themselves to become a part of a group.

Thus, an employee can change behavioral patterns several times. Thus, new members of a group first learn about existing conventions and try to fit the group. After a while, employees can change their behavior under pressure of some other factors.

Elias (2007) also reveals causal mechanisms when analyzing types of constraints. The researcher claims that conventions existing in the society shape people’s behavior cultivating certain patterns for development of self-constraints. The researcher depicts a medieval society as an example. Violence was acceptable in certain areas of lives (to certain extent). This made people develop specific forms of self-constraint.

Elias (2007) also provides two extremes of soldiers’ behavior and actions of people who decided to eliminate violence from their lives. These extremes can be a good illustration of a causal mechanism suggested by micro-sociologists, i.e. social conventions shape people’s actions and make individuals develop certain behavioral patterns for certain occasions. Therefore, the theory provides particular causal mechanisms which can be used when solving real-life issues.

Internal Validity

Admittedly, the value of the theory is not confined to its precision and applicability to real-life settings. As for internal validity of the theory, it is possible to state that it is concrete and generalizable at the same time. As has been mentioned above, the micro-sociological approach unveils specific causal mechanisms. This is why the theory can be regarded as concrete. It can address particular questions, and concepts suggested by micro-sociologists can be applicable in particular real-life settings.

However, it is more important to note that the theory is also generalizable. Researchers’ conclusions and findings (though often based on particular cases) can be generalized. Thus, Goffman analyzed behaviors of people in particular real-life settings (Macionis and Plummer, 2008).

These observations enabled him to work out some more general conventions and principles. Likewise, micro-sociologists’ conclusions can be generalized. For instance, Goffman’s (2007) concepts of dramatizations, idealization, front, settings and misrepresentation can be applicable in different settings. For instance, Goffman (2007) provides an illustrative example to support his claim concerning idealizing.

The researcher depicts a waiter’s behavior stressing the waiter’s desire to seem skillful. Basically, the concept is applicable in every setting. Reputedly, people often try to seem better than they are (during classes, at work, in personal life). Remarkably, micro-sociologists work out concepts which can be easily generalized even though the concepts can be based on particular examples.

External Validity

As has been mentioned above, the theory is applicable when answering the question why people often behave as others expect them to. It is possible to focus on several concepts provided by micro-sociologists. In the first place, the concept of dramatizing can be helpful. Goffman (2007) stresses that people dramatize their actions to fit the group.

Thus, a novice student learns about conventions existing in the school and shapes his/her future behavior in accordance with these rules. It is possible to provide a simpler example. People’s politeness can be regarded as one of the factors that make people dramatize (sometimes subconsciously). People try to act in accordance with certain rules to fit the group, i.e. to be regarded as a polite and decent person. Thus, people act in a way others expect them to.

One more concept applicable is the concept of idealizing. Goffman (2007) states that people tend to idealize themselves. Obviously, people want to seem better than they are. For instance, many people eagerly speak about their achievements and try to avoid speaking about their failures.

Goffman (2007) suggests that people often try to represent themselves in accordance with the existing values. Again, this concept can explain the question mentioned. People act as others expect them to because there are conventions which shape people’s behavior. Individuals try to seem ideal members of their societies.

Of course, it is easy to predict behavior of people in many situations, i.e. people will try to create an image of an ideal person which is archetypal for this or that society. Notably, Goffman (2007) mentions that people also act in accordance with their previous experiences. Basically, people create stereotypes which become a model for future generations. If stereotypes and conventions are known, it can be easy to predict people’s actions.

At this point, it is important to note that social conventions are created by people. It is impossible to claim that society is some external system that affects people’s behavior. Micro-sociologists stress that people create the system which starts shaping individuals’ actions.

In other words, people create certain rules and conventions to follow. These rules are worked out in accordance with previous experiences of people. Basically, individuals form groups which are managed by particular rules. At the same time, individuals follow the rules to fit the group.

Conclusion

On balance, it is possible to state that micro-sociological analysis can help to answer the question why people behave as others expect them to. The theoretical approach focuses on people’s behavior and provides particular causal mechanisms and concepts that can explain individuals’ actions.

This approach provides particular explanations that can answer the question. Thus, in accordance with the approach people act as others expect them to because people want to fit their societies. Apart from this, the micro-sociological analysis provides several mechanisms and factors which influence people’s behavior. Therefore, it is possible to claim that micro-sociological approach is the most appropriate theoretical framework to answer the question addressed.

References

Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., & Moody, J. (2007). Contemporary sociological theory. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Elias, N. (2007). The social constraint towards self-constraint. In C. J. Calhoun, J. Gerteis, & J. Moody (Eds.), Contemporary sociological theory (pp. 417-428). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Goffman, E. (2007). The presentation of self in everyday life. In C. J. Calhoun, J. Gerteis, & J. Moody (Eds.), Contemporary sociological theory (pp. 52-67). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Macionis, J., & Plummer, K. (2008). Sociology: A global introduction. Essex: Pearson Education.

Turner, J. (2010). Theoretical principles of sociology. Riverside, CA: Springer.