The Working Consensus: Is It Helping or Hurting?

In the reading by Goffman titled “Presentation of Self In Everyday Life,” he discusses this idea of the “working consensus.” Goffman stated that interaction between individuals begins with this concept of a working consensus. It is defined as being agreeable terms that help to avoid conflict; also, it occurs when one side of an argument ignores the reality that they know to be true simply because it is easier to agree with someone who has a differing opinion rather than argue their own point.

Similarly, Goffman discusses this idea of a performance and someone being cynical or sincere in their performance. A performance, according to Goffman, can be described as an activity of the participants involved that attempts to influence other people involved. If someone is cynical, Goffman says that they do not believe their own performance. On the other hand, if someone is sincere, they do believe their own performance. Oddly enough, Goffman also stated that an individual can be cynical in their performance, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because this occurs so that the working consensus can continue forward. The example given in class was a doctor telling a patient what they want to hear just to keep this working consensus moving forward.

I wanted to bring up these concepts to raise the question of whether or not the working consensus is helping or hurting individuals who propel it forward. I personally believe that the working consensus has both a benefit and a disadvantage within society. Benefits of the working consensus are that it does in fact avoid conflict. Sometimes, individuals are better off not engaging in an argument because that argument could have the potential to lead to the loss of a relationship or friendship. The most simple example I can think of is when two members of a relationship argue over a movie to watch. If individual A wants to watch a horror film, but individual B hates that genre of film, instead of fighting to watch the scary movie, individual A will simply move onto a different type of movie to avoid the argument so that the two can watch the film.

On the other hand, a consequence to the working consensus is that it creates a lack of freedom that individuals have to freely express their feelings and/or opinions. For example, the topic of race is one topic that has the potential to escalate quickly when debated. If one individual states that white members of society are the most disadvantaged in society today, but another individual knows for a fact that this is not true and simply does not say anything in order to avoid a conflict, that second individual is not voicing his/her opinion and their freedom of speech is being constricted and/or completely erased.

While the working consensus does have advantages and disadvantages, I still am unsure on where I stand with the idea of if this concept is good or bad. I believe it will continue to occur in society today, but whether it is helping or hurting is still something that I do not know the answer to.



One Reply to “The Working Consensus: Is It Helping or Hurting?”

  1. hi, this is a GREAT review of these concepts. I like how you point out that the concepts themselves are almost neutral, or they are flexible and can be used for different purposes, or create different consequences. Goffman does a great job of mapping out the nuts and bolts of social interactions, but he doesn’t necessarily delve into power relations, which obvi alter who does more work to keep the “working consensus”. I feel like Hochschild gives us another piece of working consensus–namely that women do a lot to keep the working consensus “real”. Great post!


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