Altercasting refers to a communication strategy that involves ascribing or assigning a particular role or identity to someone in order to influence their behavior or perception. It is a technique commonly used in social interactions, marketing campaigns, and persuasive communication to shape and control the attitudes and actions of individuals. By casting individuals into specific roles, altercasting aims to elicit certain responses and reactions from them.
Basically, altercasting means “casting alter into an identity or role type.” The term of altercasting was originally presented by Eugene Weinstein and Paul Deutschberger in their paper Dimensions of Altercasting, published in 1963 by the American Sociological Association. Weinstein, Wiley and DeVaughn define suggest that altercasting is concerned with the “function of acts for an ongoing episode.” They explain that the function of the acts of the actor is viewed for the “potential consequences for shaping the response of the other” (Weinstein, Wiley and DeVaughn, 1966).
Altercasting is used in the context of communication and means an individual manipulates personal identity and situational cues so the Alter (other) adopts a particular identity or role type that serves the first individual’s personal goal.
The underlying concept of altercasting is that we are goal directed. Alfred Adler wrote, “if we look at the matter more closely, we shall find the following law holding in the development of all psychic happenings: we cannot think, feel, will, or act without the perception of some goal” (2011). A basic concept of role theory is that people interact based on the roles each individual is expected to play. However in altercasting the individual brings “personal purposes into interactions” and utilizes a manipulative program to cast the other into a role that will fulfil the first person’s goals.
Weinstein and Deutschberger explain that the “pursuit of these purposes rather than the automatic unfolding of role reciprocity according to a normative written script is the underlying texture of interaction” (Weinstein & Deutschberger, 1963).
Altercasting in Interpersonal Communication
In a social context, altercasting may occur when someone assigns a role to another person in a conversation or interaction. In a simple form it is as if the Actor is presenting, “here is who I am, and here is the role I would like you play.” Of course most altercasting interactions take place beneath the surface, neither the Actor nor the receiver (Alter) are completely aware of the role playing, and the underlying intention to manipulate the other.
For example a man at a bar sees an attractive woman reject another man. The observing man makes a comment to her such as “what a jerk.” However, the man’s underlying goal is to present himself as a sympathizer, hoping the woman to let down her guard and giving him a chance to fulfil his relationship goals (honorable or not) with the woman.
Presentation of Self
Weinstein and Deutschberger’s theory of altercasting is drawn from the earlier work of Erving Goffman, presented in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959). Goffman’s work conducted a “dramaturgical analysis of encounters,” breaking down the steps of interpersonal communication.
First the person (or Actor) defines the situation. Then the Actor draws inferences to what lines of action must be pursued. Following, the Actor decides which role to pursue and project to affect the other’s (Alter’s) desired response. Basically, this step refers to manipulating the cues in the situation to form the alter’s perception of it. And finally, if the process is effective, the Alter will act in a way that fulfills the Actor’s purposes.
An example of this may be my interactions with my neighbor. In almost every conversation, he states that he is a “scientist” and from the perspective of a scientist then “the truth is…”. From the framework of Goffman, my neighbor is establishing a personal role of authority, perhaps, so I take his opinion without question.
While this process appears crudely unethical, we must consider that both the Actor and the Alter are playing the same game. The Alter from their personal perception is playing the role of the Actor and the other is the Alter. In healthy, intimate relationships the interpersonal dance takes on predictable patterns that typically satisfies both partners. Or in Goffman’s words, the couple establishes a “working consensus” of roles. They establish a pattern of interaction that creates security through predictability.
The Focus of Altercasting Theory
Goffman’s focus is on the actor assuming a role that will manipulate the Alter’s response. Basically, if “the Ego successfully presents the correct identity, Alter, in his responsive line of action, will be obligated to deal with Ego as a person of such an identity has a right to expect” (1963). However, in Weinstein and Deutschberger’s theory, the focus is on manipulating the role that the Alter adopts which may or may not include the identity projecting of the Actor. They suggest that “it might be equally fruitful to concentrate more directly on the implication’s of Ego’s behavior for Alter’s definition of the situation” (1963).
Politicians master this charade. After watching a few presidential debates, I was a bit disgusted how the candidates present the “hot topics” in deceptive and absolute terms. For instant, gender identity is quickly morphed into genital mutilation of minors. Democrats are no better, presenting stricter penalties for law offenders as locking up juveniles for minor violations. Each case is an example of manipulating constituent’s (Alter) definition of the situation in order to secure a certain outcome.
Six Dimensions of Altercasting
In order to conduct research on altercasting, Weinstein and Deutschberger identified six dimensions, or roles that the Actor is attempting to cast on the Alter. In their research, they rated each dimension on a 7 point scale.
- Structural Distance: this refers to the position of relative authority. A rating of 4 represents structural parity.
- Evaluative Distance: this refers to each person’s evaluative worth in the context of the relationship, identifying superiority and subordinate positions. Accordingly, a rating of 4 represents evaluative parity.
- Emotional Distance: this refers to the role of importance the Alter perceives they play in the Actor’s feelings, needs, and everyday concerns. A rating of 1 represents maximum involvement and intimacy.
- Support or Support Seeking: whether the Alter plays a role of needing the Actors help or plays the role of helping the actor. A rating of 4 represents support parity.
- Dependence vs. Autonomy: this refers to the Alters role of dependency. A Rating of 1 represents complete dependence and 7 represents compete separateness.
- Degrees of Freedom Allowed to Alter: this represents the degree of constraints placed on the alter (Weinstein and Deutschberger, 1963).
We must remember that Weinstein and Deutschberger only designated six dimensions for research purposes. In real life, interpersonal interaction may include an infinite number of dimensions of varying importance.
Marketing and Altercasting
Altercasting is often used in marketing and advertising as well. Companies may altercast problems onto consumers that requires purchasing of the company’s products or services. Through advertisement (and extensive psychological research) advertising campaigns seek to cast draw receivers into accepting particular roles that motivate action.
A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic
It is important to note that while altercasting can be a powerful tool in communication, it also has ethical implications. The act of assigning roles to others without their consent or in a manipulative manner can be coercive and disrespectful. It is essential to approach altercasting with care and ensure that it respects individuals’ autonomy and agency.
Overall, altercasting is a fascinating concept that sheds light on how communication can shape our identities and behaviors. By understanding the underlying mechanisms of altercasting, we can become more aware of the role it plays in our daily interactions and make conscious choices about the roles we assign to ourselves and others.
Adler, Alfred (1920/2011). The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology. Martino Fine Books.
Spitzer, Stephen; Volk, Barbara (1971). Altercasting the Difficult. AJN: American Journal of Nursing, 71(4).
Weinstein, Eugene A.; Deutschberger, Paul (1963). Some Dimensions of Altercasting. American Sociological Association. Sociometry, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Dec., 1963), pp. 454-466. DOI: 10.2307/2786148