Sailaja N. Joshi

Archive for the ‘Erwing Goffman’ Category

Team CoCO x India (Oh Balle Balle!)

In Anthropology, Erwing Goffman, India, NBC on November 9, 2010 at 9:43 am

So India has been getting some love the past few weeks. First Outsourced hits NBC, then the President visits India and does some dancing, and now my man Conan.

A few sites have been trying to compare the ad with Outsourced but the  two honestly have their own space. While Conan and the team at AmEx’s ad agency had a clear vision in mind, its possible that the writers at Outsourced are just riding the stereotype train.

Here is a bit on how the ad came to be via Sepia Mutiny:

Amex has been trying to lure Mr. O’Brien into appearing in a commercial since the company sponsored his comedy tour earlier this year. Several weeks ago, Mr. O’Brien said he was finally convinced by a funny script created by WPP PLC’s Ogilvy & Mather, as well as American Express’s past ads.

Playing on Mr. O’Brien’s obsession for detail, the new ad shows the comedian taking a trip to India to search for the finest materials to make curtains for his new show. Mr. O’Brien is seen using a loom to weave the fabric; stomping on flower petals to make the dye and having a gossip session with the local washing ladies as he dyes the material.

A person familiar with the matter said AmEx paid Mr. O’Brien more than $1 million to do the commercial. [wsj]

If we’re going to use Anthropological speak (and really, we always should), then we would talk about perhaps Goffman and his presentation of self. Here in this ad, Conan is presenting himself as someone who cares about quality, down to the smallest detail. Perhaps he’s saying something about his former employee and their lack of attention to detail (see Outsourced).

So what’s your take folks? What do you think about the ad?




The Good, The Bad, The Dark

In American Dream, Erwing Goffman, Social Change on May 19, 2010 at 8:07 am

Much of my Master’s research focuses on skin color and its subsequent impact on beauty, social capital and cultural values. Of the studies I’ve read on the subject of skin color (and believe me, I’ve read a lot of studies on this) the conclusion largely remains the same.

Dark skin is bad and light skin is good. (No surprise there!) is the latest agency to feature a story about racial prejudice and how it is still an ingrained part of society, especially among young children.  The pilot study talks to young,  African-American and Caucasian children, who when asked a series of questions about a series of dolls who were identical except for their skin color. Continuously throughout the study children identify dark skin ‘dolls’ as dumb and ugly while light skin dolls are smart and good-looking.

Dr. Spencer, a lead on the study notes that what is alarming about this study is that children, regardless of age, continue to have the same racial stereotypes that civil rights leaders fought against in the 1960s. Generations after the civil rights movement and in an age where we have a black, albeit light skinned, president these children are still internalizing racial stereotypes of yesteryear.

In looking at this study through sociological lens, I turn to my main theoretical crush, Erwing Goffman and his idea of the Presentation of Self, which is worth bringing up again in order to look at this cultural construct that is still apart of a child’s identity.

In looking at the reaction of the children in this study in the lens of Goffman’s Presentation of Self one might consider skin color as the costume we wear. The difference of course here is that, skin color cannot change. Ok, sure you can go tanning or buy lightening creams, but at the end of the day those are just temporary change to one’s skin color.

Skin color, much like a prop such as a diploma, only has significance once a society ascribes it any significance. It is not until we change the conversation, both at home and through the media that the significance of skin color can be shifted. Cultures and societies take time to change their ingrained values, and so while it has be fifty years since the Civil Rights movement has taken place, the ideologies of dark as bad and white is good are still enduring.

As we become more aware of the disturbing ideas our society has surrounding skin color, we are able to discuss these issues and slowly change the significance skin color represents. Within in this study itself, children already demonstrate the ideology that skin color does not matter when it comes to who is smart or who we want to be our friend.

I think the challenge here for the United States is multi-fold. On the one hand, while we are having the conversation about racial stereotypes, we still only look at race as a binary. I mean, for heaven sakes, what is it going to take to get a brown kid into one of these racial studies and ask them what they are thinking and feeling?

Second, it seems as though that, even in this study, we are coaxing our children into thinking that dark is bad and light is right through our questions. I wonder what doll the children in this study would have picked if asked, “Which of these children looks like a good athlete?” or “Which of these children looks like they are good at math?” The conversation then, may have shifted to a place where dark skin was seen as a ‘good’ quality, perhaps even desirable.

We as a society have the opportunity to change so much of this conversation, but that change must start from the individuals and permeate through our media and beauty industry. Until we change this conversation, we are liable to continue to have children who are still living in a world where things are only black and white.

Betty White: Funny Gal, Bad Ass Grandma & Anthropologist Extraordinaire

In Erwing Goffman, Presentation of Self on May 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

This weekend, I like many other people stayed up past my bedtime to watch the amazing Betty White perform on SNL. Now, I’ve always loved Betty White and was truly amazed by her comedic genius, her general bad-ass-ness and well, astounding anthropological skills.

In listening to Miss White’s opening monologue, I thought she was apt to point out how Facebook has turned some lame and boring pastimes (re: looking at vacation photographs) into well, a wonderful way to procrastinate and reconnect. Who would have thought that a virtual book could help reconnect millions of people and simultaneously make them less productive.

Facebook has in effect completely changed the way in which we create and develop our social circles. In addition to making vacation pictures now a means of procrastination, Facebook has created a transparent environment in which we present ourselves to the world. With each status update and change in profile picture, we are changing the way in which our friends, and the world view us.

While Facebook is a fascinating place in which to study the world we live in, I can’t help feeling a bit saddened by its existence. Sure, its nice that I can connect with my four-month-old niece in Arizona but it wouldn’t be even nicer if I could see her in person?  Yet, somehow I feel connected with her because Facebook has made it ok to forgo human-to-human interaction for human-to-Facebook Profile interaction.

How we create our social bonds is an engrained part of our socialization.  I can’t help but wonder how my children are going to interact in this age of digital relationships. Will they only know their cousins through Facebook? Will family get-togethers now be conducted via webcam? Or will this age of hyper-digital relationships give way to an age in which we go back to traditional ideas of relationship and see people in (gasp) person?

There are many movements that indicate our society (or some members) is heading towards the path of more traditional values and ways of communicating. Take a look at sites such as Etsy and the number of CSAs that have popped up over the past two years. People are looking for handcrafted goods because they are looking to create real, human relationships once again.

So while venture capitalists and social media specialists are trying to anticipate the next “Facebook” I think they should take a moment and look at what people are really doing and how they are really interacting.  Because, even if there is a new Facebook out there, will anyone join it if they’ve gone back to writing letters?

iPad, iPhone, iSelf.

In Anthropology, Erwing Goffman, Presentation of Self, Social Change, Teatime Theory, United States on April 15, 2010 at 10:24 am

Now, before those Mac rumor blogs start tweeting away at Apples latest gadget, the iSelf is not the latest Apple gadget but in fact my generations’ latest state of mind.

Before we talk about the iSelf, we must talk about my main theoretical squeeze and inspiration, Mister Erwing Goffman (I mean, who wouldn’t love a man named Ewring right?). Goffman is the sociologist who came up with the Presentation of Self saying that we are all merely actors/actresses within society. We assume roles, and much like the theater there are scripts that define our roles as well as props and costumes. These roles can be changed, based on our “set” and our ‘characters’ are never static.

Drawing from my man, Goffman’s ideas I believe the iPad/iPhone have become the quintessential prop in my generations’ existence. More than just the “Are you a Mac or are you a PC,” mentality, the iPad/iPhone have together with the iTunes App Store created the iSelf.

No longer are people displaying their diplomas or wearing white coats, we’re all now walking around with identical looking Pods and Pads, blissfully unaware of how these Pod-Pads have equalized us. No longer can we tell the elite members of society from the regular folk.

That is where the iSelf steps in.

I define the iSelf as the, “the manifestation of a person’s cultural values and ideologies through the download and use of Apple Applications of the iPhone/iPad/iTouch.” It is essentially, how we present ourselves through our ‘props’, in this case, the iPhone/iPad.

The crucial point of this observation is; when and how are companies going to utilize this iSelf?

By taking a look at a person’s applications, I think companies will uncover a deep seeded cultural ideals that even the owners may not have know existed.  I’m sure that Apple is out there, working on a logarithm to analyze all this information, but truth be told they need ethnography. Humans are after all, social creates and therefore developing an understanding of HOW people are downloading their Apps and what in means for them, I think Apple will gain an even further edge on the market.

And so, the next time you download an Application onto your Pod/Pad/Touch, as yourself, what does this REALLY say about me?