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Erving Goffman’s Remedial Strategies

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 31, 2007 at 11:19 am

In his 1971 book Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order, Erving Goffman explores the “remedial” strategies available to the accused. By focusing on “remedial work,” Goffman explicitly states that the goal of the accused is to transform or reposition the “meaning” of the act of wrongdoing—in an attempt to re-position an act that at first seems offensive into a socially acceptable one (109).

To achieve such a remediation, an accused person must either offer an account, an apology, or a request (Goffman 115). Accoding to Goffman, an account may include such strategies as denying that the act occurred or an admittance that the act occurred, but that the accused isn’t responsible for or couldn’t foresee the negative outcome (109-112). The second remedial strategy consists of an apology, in which the accused, essentially, splits himself into two parts: the guilty side and the side that “stands back and sympathizes with the blame giving, and, by implication, is worthy of being brought back into the fold” (Goffman 113). Finally, the accused can defend his or her actions by noting that the victim granted a request prior to the act and, therefore, is partly, if not, solely responsible for the outcome. For example, before violating someone’s privacy, a person may ask: “Can I ask you something personal?” (Goffman 115).

Regardless of whether a person uses an account, apology, or request, Goffman states that often two distinct processes actually occur in remedial work. One is restitutive, in which the victim receives some form of compensation. The other, which is more relevant to our discussion, is ritualistic. By ritualistic, Goffman means that the accused performs a ritual whereby he or she acknowledges the social rules, norms, or values that have been broken and realigns with or reaccepts that social order. This aspect is critical because it establishes wrongful acts as breaks from a society’s values; moreover, it establishes the remedial work as a public ritual in which those values are reaccepted. In other words, as Keith Michael Hearit notes, the goal is not actually forgiveness, but rather the repair of an “image-based social relationship” through a ritualistic acknowledgement and acceptance of values (Crisis Management 17).

Consequently, individuals or organizations offer not merely a defense, but a defense that seeks “restoration into the community” (Hearit Crisis Management 36). As we can see, then, whether the accused relies on an account, an apology, or a request, reacceptance into the community hinges on whether the accused accepts the social order and values that are believed to have been violated (Goffman 165).

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  1. […] the employee from the company. In that sense, this short email from Kiva functions in the way that Erving Goffman described apologies. According to Goffman, the accused essentially splits himself into two parts during an apology. […]

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