Chapter 6

Building Image: The Presentation of Self

Sociologists at Work


Philip Blumstein

"Altercasting" Your Date

In addition to managing our own impressions, or trying to manipulate the way others see us, sometimes we try to place another person in a particular identity. Using verbal strategies to impose a certain self-image on others is called "altercasting."1

We sometimes cast others into roles that are to our advantage, forcing people to act "voluntarily" in ways that are consistent with our interests. Saying "After all the things I've done for you, the least you could do is let me borrow your car" immediately places on the recipient of the comment the identity of "obligated friend" and compels him or her to reciprocate a favor. Similarly, when a teacher tells a student "I know you can do better," the student is compelled to live up to an identity of competence.

The use of altercasting was demonstrated in a study by sociologist Philip Blumstein on social interaction in a dating situation.2 Women in the study were instructed to claim a "healthily assertive" identity by altercasting their dates into a submissive role. They would say things like "I've been dating this one guy, but we broke up because he would never let me have any say about what we do. You wouldn't treat me that way, would you?" Or "I like guys who don't come on like they own me, but let me take some initiative."

Although some of the men rejected these attempts to define their identity, most did not. Most went along with their assertive dates, presenting themselves in a way that was consistent with the identity into which they had been cast. For example, a man might say, "Sorry I've been so pushy. Whatever you say goes."

This research has obvious implications for interpersonal power relations, showing how people can manipulate the behavior of others. It also sheds light on the strength of the particular identities that make up one's self-concept. Most of the men who resisted the altercasting attempts had indicated earlier in the study that dominance was an important aspect of their own self-concept. The men who rated dominance as unimportant were more likely to accept the submissive identity.

Blumstein concluded that we tend to reject altercasting attempts that threaten an identity central to our overall self-concept.

1Weinstein, E. A., & Deutschberger, P. 1963. "Some dimensions of altercasting." Sociometry, 26, 454-466.

2Blumstein, P. 1975. "Identity bargaining and self-conception." Social Forces, 53, 476-485.

Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life, Fifth Edition
by David M. Newman.
Copyright © 2004 Pine Forge Press, an Imprint of Sage Publications, Inc.