Thoughts on self presentation and performance

posted May 30, 2018, 8:55 PM by Nic Guinto
If there is one important lesson I'm learning so far from this PhD journey, it's the notion that everything we do, say, or think can be mapped within the intersecting fabric of life and the world we live in. Of course, it's nothing new. It's been well discussed by renowned scholars in the past such as Erving Goffman (the dramaturgical model/ performance theory), Pierre Bourdieu (notions of habitus & field), and Michel Foucault (discourse), among many others. (Note: I may still be wrong at this point as these are thoughts that keep me awake at 4 in the morning. I thought it better to put this into writing just so it gets out and hopefully for this excited thoughts to let me get some rest.)

After another meeting with one of my supervisors on a short paper that I wrote, he pointed out my tendency to take my participants' words as absolute truths, with a sprinkle of my politics (not his exact words, but somewhere around those lines and in a much nicer fashion). While writing, I honestly have not thought about that. I actually enjoyed writing it, and I was hoping that such enjoyment have reflected in my word choice and construction that the reader would appreciate it as much as I did. It could have passed as a good enough story for the drama anthology Maala ala Mo Kaya (MMK) or personality features in newspapers. But it was one of those moments where I appreciated a 'brutally' honest feedback. Sure, I have read many times in the past about the danger of taking the words of interviewees. But perhaps, he was right to say that I'm letting my politics, my voice, to get in the way. And it's not good if I'm trying to build a theory (as any PhD student in the social sciences and the humanities are expected to do :( ) from my work.

One double-sword commentary I got from him was that I write like how many journalists write. I took it as complement. After all, short of a journalism degree, my education and career has practically shaped my stance and writing following journalistic conventions. But in this context, and in the context of research work, I should take off my journalistic hat, and see beyond or beneath the 'newsworthiness' of the field site I was investigating as a researcher. I shouldn't just have a "nose for news", but a multi-sensory understanding of my field site  Of course, this is not to diminish or discount the very valuable work and contribution of journalists and journalism to society. In fact, he once told me that many other journalists have departed from exclusively focusing on 'trivial' matters in their stories, and this is I think what investigative journalists do. So the point is, I keep my gaze away from a single frame, my politics, and try to see, in more understandable terms, the whole performance, front stage, back, and offstage - to allude from Goffman's work.

The realization, after days of brooding over the comments? Needless to say, I must always take a step back when analyzing my informant's assertions on things. I should be skeptical. Why did s/he say what s/he said? Where (both physically and ideologically) did s/he say what s/he said? Little did I know, they may have said so only because they were trying to paint a certain image of themselves, if not their group, in their favor - which we all do when we talk to other people, even friends or family. Everything is a performance, to allude back to our dear friend Erving again. Social media has given way to hyperpersonalities. The late capitalist/modern world has created synthetic personalizations. I should have known better when I was writing that piece, and should have problematized on their sense of positioning, and the discourses they tend to orient to/ dissent with. Well, I know better now. And you should, too if you have read this till the end.

If anything that I said triggered you, let me know what you think via