When Amish youths reach the age of sixteen, they get an opportunity to participate in the rumspringa, a coming of age ritual. During the ritual, the youths are allowed to indulge in drinking, smoking, do drugs among other pleasures they are not allowed before. The freedom ends between the ages of 18 to 22 when the individual feels ready to make the decision that determines the rest of their life. The youths must later decide to join the Amish church and commit to their cultures and values or be excommunicated and banished from their families to live on their own in the outside world. The Devil’s Playground directed by Lucy Walker documents the unique lives of the Amish youths before, during, and after their rumspringa period. Based on the documentary, we explore impression management – dramaturgical approach and relate to incidents from the film. We then explore the concept of looking-glass self and cite examples from the film, and explore two agents of socialization that the Amish youths view as successful or appropriate life.
The dramaturgical approach was developed by Erving Goffman to explain the concept of social life and self. The approach is also referred to as the impression management because as a part of playing the role for others, it also acts to control the impression they have on individuals. According to Zeuner (134), the perspective assumes that an individual’s personality is not static, but changes to fit their current situation. The individual prepares an impression that they want to make on the audience, which in this case is the public. In the Devil’s Playground documentary, the youths follow the rules set aside by the community before they reach sixteen years. Even after reaching the age ritual and gain the freedom to indulge in the “English” behaviors, they still feel attached to their community and tries to behave well in preparation to be accepted to the Amish Church. For instance, although Aaron has been enjoying his freedom, he has also been trying to quit drugs in preparation to join the Amish Church (“Devil’s Playground” 24:31 – 24: 48).
The looking glass self is a social psychological concept developed in 1902 by Charles Horton Cooley. The concept believes that an individual’s self-growth is determined by their interactions with the society and the perception of others (Baumeister and Bushman 78). People are more likely to shape themselves based on the perception of others, which leads to them reinforcing the perceptions of others in their lives. Aaron still hopes to join the Amish Church later in his life. He also has an English girlfriend. However, although she is not Amish, she says that she will be able to adjust and join the Amish church, most probably to be able to fit into the Amish society and be with her boyfriend (“Devil’s Playground” 7:06 – 8:02).
Agents of Socialization
Socialization occurs throughout an individual’s life. Some of the most influential agents of socialization are family, school, peers, and mass media. In the case of the Amish youth, the most powerful agents of socialization are family and peers. The families of the Amish youths teach them the importance of observing their values and emphasize the importance of adhering to them to avoid being excommunicated. The other agent of socialization for the Amish youths is their peers. After they reach the age of sixteen, the youths want to be like their peers, they go out, indulge in drinking, smoking, and do drugs among others.
Without a doubt, my family has been the most important agent of socialization. My parents have transferred their values since my childhood, and although I have not completely accepted all their values, they have affected my life in a bigger way. In relation to individual decisions made or looking self-glass, most of the times I have tried to reinforce my interactions to fit the perceptions of my parents.
“Devil’s Playground.” YouTube, uploaded by SnagFilms, 21 September 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0h4nRYZ8d0
Baumeister, R, F., and Bushman, B. J. Social Psychology and Human Nature, Comprehensive Edition. Cengage Learning, 2016.
Zeuner, Lilli. Cultural Sociology from Concern to Distance. Copenhagen Business School Press, 2003.
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