Building Image: The Presentation of Self
"Altercasting" Your Date
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
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."
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."
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.
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.
David Newman and Rebecca Smith.
(Created October 7, 1999). Copyright Pine Forge Press.