Frederick Wiseman: His contribution to sociologies of the self

Daniel C McDonald, Fordham University


This research examines and assesses the contribution of Frederick Wiseman, the contemporary and controversial documentary filmmaker, to sociologies of the self, in light of the interactionist and dramaturgical framework provided by Erving Goffman.^ The research first presents a description of Goffman's theory of the self from his complete works. With this background, the contribution of Wiseman is examined as to his possible place within this sociological tradition, but emphasis is also placed on the importance of visual and filmic traditions for Wiseman. The perspectives on self and institutions of these two commentators on social life overlap. This allows the research to ask certain questions about the relevance of Wiseman's films for sociology. A further question is, "Does Wiseman offer any new ideas as to how selves are formed, changed, and transformed by social processes?" Using a film viewing method which combines ethnographic and content analysis, six of Wiseman's films are studied for information on the self. The findings indicate that film portrayals of selves within institutional settings (e.g., a high school, a monastery, a city hospital, a juvenile court, a police precinct) emphasize two areas of study that are relatively neglected within sociologies of the self: namely, (1) the importance of temporality and time-sequencing when selves are pressed to undergo change in situations of constraint, (2) the employment of the body as a mode of response and resistance to change in clearly defined spatial settings. The use of film techniques in social science research is discussed. ^

Subject Area

Sociology|Film studies

Recommended Citation

McDonald, Daniel C, "Frederick Wiseman: His contribution to sociologies of the self" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8917239.