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The origin and demise of Socio-Cultural presentations of self from birth to death

Aaron Cicourel is Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science, Pediatrics, and Sociology at UCSD; Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Health and Aging, UCSF; and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues.  He received his B.A. and M.A. from UCLA, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. He was a visiting assistant professor at Northwestern University; assistant professor, associate professor, UC Riverside; lecturer in sociology at UC Berkeley; professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara; and has been professor of sociology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Sociology at UCSD. He held a Russell Sage Foundation Post Doctoral Fellowship at UC Los Angeles Medical Center; National Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship (London, England); Guggenheim Fellowship (Madrid, Spain); and was a Fulbright Lecturer (Brazil and Barcelona). His areas of specialization included sociolinguistics, medical communication, decision-making, and child socialization. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.


The emergence, social differentiation, and reproduction of human communities are only possible by means of the socialization of the young.

The latter essential activity requires socio-cultural, institutiona lized caregiver practices or "scaffolding" (Vygotsky, 1978)) by individuals and groups.  Caregiver socialization occurs within socially distributed, intuitive and normative knowledge systems. Such systems enable progeny to acquire and sustain a variety of habitual or mundane socially organized activities, practices, and belief systems.  Caregiver variations exist within and across cultural settings (see Whiting, 1964, Ochs, 1988 and Schieffelin, 1990).

Neurobiological, cognitive, emotional, and socio-cultural evolution enable and parallel the acquisition of communicative, and socio-cultural skills indispensable for the emergence and reproduction of a sense of others (social structure). Variable adult capacities gradually become stable and then differentially weakened over the life cycle. The aged experience "reverse socialization; " a gradual loss of self and sense of others, decline of routine socio-cultural activities and practices (social structure) necessary for the reproduction of communal life.

A mode st corpus of data, ten minutes of discourse between six couples is used to illustrate the scaffolding provided by caregivers to simulate appropriate socio-cultural interaction.  Unknown to the author, two couples were "normal," but one spouse in each subsequent couple had been diagnosed with either Alzheimer's Disease or Frontotemporal Dementia.

The title and some of the substantive content of this paper will remind many readers of Erving Goffman ' s (1956; 1959) unique characterizations of adult presentation s of self in everyday social interaction.  Goffman ' s convincing descriptions, derived from field studies and secondary sources are especially imaginative but not readily amenable to systematic empirical clarification.  Pierre Bourdieu ' s (1977; 72-78) useful, ideal type notion of "habitus" (see Cicourel, 1993a; 1993b 2004, 2006)  has been especially helpful to the present work.  Habitus, though theoretically and substantively innovative, lacks several essential conceptual issues and detailed, real-time empirical observations.