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Intimate Deception in Everyday Life

Studies in Symbolic Interaction

ISBN: 978-1-78190-056-7, eISBN: 978-1-78190-057-4

Publication date: 10 October 2012


Purpose – To analyse the patterns of deception that take place at five different levels of intimacy: fleeting encounters between strangers, performance teams and their audiences, competitive game play between teammates, intimate partners, and individual selfhood.

Approach – Symbolic interactionist and dramaturgical theories are applied alongside Simmel's dialectical model of social relations.

Findings – Symbolic interactionist theories posit that deception can be socially good, regardless of whether it is morally right or wrong, because of its facilitative effects on interaction order. While applicable to the tactful ‘polite fictions’ that characterise some routine encounters in everyday life, this model of pragmatic rationality becomes complicated when we analyse its deployment in more intimate forms of social relationship. Drawing on Simmel's dialectic of fascination and fear, I suggest that the relative influence of these factors shifts as intimacy increases: cautious reserve gives way to trust, excitement and risk taking, experienced through both collusive deception and honesty. This culminates in the Goffmanesque ‘transceiver’, an agent who can take the view of both fraudster and victim simultaneously, viewing the social drama from both perspectives; fear, suspicion and cynicism then paradoxically re-emerge. The consequences of transceivership are explored in relation to self-deception, through the example of academic impostordom.

Originality and value – The paper critically explores the limitations of SI and dramaturgy for understanding more intimate forms of deception, while arguing that Simmelian ideas can be usefully applied to augment the theories and compensate for these effects.



Scott, S. (2012), "Intimate Deception in Everyday Life", Denzin, N.K. (Ed.) Studies in Symbolic Interaction (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 39), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 251-279.



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