Self is a classical theme in psychology, social psychology and sociology. More than hundred years ago, William James, for example, pointed out the persistent human need to be recognized by fellow human beings. In sociology, Erving Goffman is the great theorist of self. He claimed that concern for self – or what he called face – is an ever-present concern in social interaction. Importantly, Goffman postulated that in interaction, we are equally concerned about our own and our fellow interactants’ face. Yet, face work is not always collaborative, it can also be competitive and aggressive. Even though Goffman’s ideas have been seminal in sociological theory and have led to the creation of the linguistic politeness theory, systematic empirical investigations about face work are still needed. For example, we do not yet fully understand what vulnerability of self – a theme repeatedly emphasized by Goffman – entails in social interaction.
The key idea our project “Facing Narcissism” is this: by studying social interactions in persons that are known to be particularly sensitive in their experience of self, we can in a new level of detail pin down interactional practices that pertain to face, self, and their vulnerabilities. Certain personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder, involve this kind of sensitivity in the experience of self. We are studying social interactions in various settings involving persons with personality disorders. Furthermore, we will study participants of general population, exploring linkages between personality, self-experience and interactional practices.
The anticipated results of the project involve (1) descriptions of interactional practices associated to self, (2) descriptions of the neural and physiological underpinnings of such practices, (3) descriptions of diagnostic and therapeutic practices associated to self-experience, and (4) proposals for new practices in the diagnosis of personality disorders.