“The Individual as a Unit” chapter in Goffman’s Relations in Public is an in-depth analysis of how individuals act and interact when traveling and when in social settings. The main idea of the essay is that subconscious rules are established and that people trust each other to follow them, making it possible to live together without crossing social boundaries.
This was a quite fascinating read about something I never really thought about, but that is very important in designing spaces for people. Keeping in mind how people travel through space, whether they are alone or with a group, can be very helpful in organizing and structuring an installation. For example, the idea of how people will subconsciously keep right when walking in a hall could determine the placement of objects on the wall. Also, knowing that people will most likely travel in pairs or threes helps settle the amount of space needed around a piece.
It was also amusing to notice how true all this was in the way I am and act. The example about uncertainty when crossing a street and how a pedestrian will want to make eye contact with a driver before crossing is something that particularly rang true. Another concept that hit home was how two people who are walking towards each other on the sidewalk will keep checking each other out until they are certain that they have been noticed and acknowledged. This was equally true in the section on participation units, particularly how in many crowd settings you are expected to arrive and leave with the same person, but it is normal to stray and mingle with others while you are there.
In the section on vehicular units, the author makes it a point that these observations apply only in America. It would be interesting to see what differences there are in other countries, both in the Western world and in more culturally different places. It would also be interesting to see what distinctions there are in different cities in America, in cities versus towns, etc.