Civil Inattention

Civil inattention defines how individuals show others that they are conscious of others' presence without offending people by avoiding showing pervasive attention to them.
Civil Inattention Sociology Definition


Civil inattention defines how individuals show others that they are conscious of others’ presence without offending people by avoiding showing pervasive attention to them.

The idea of “civil inattention” was created by Erving Goffman and published in his 1963 book Behavior in Public Places.


Erving Goffman observed several unspoken principles that preserve decorum between strangers in public in Behaviour in Public Places. Civil inattention is when a person indicates that they are aware that others are there without making those individuals the target of special attention.

The “interaction order” and “interaction ritual” that Goffman believes regulate the fundamental procedures of social interactions are shown through civil inattention.

In his studies, Goffman found that polite inattention often begins with a modest social engagement, such as extremely short eye contact, head nodding, or flimsy smiles. Following that, both parties usually turn away from one another.

Goffman was the first sociologist to systematically pay attention to the minute elements of interaction routine that maintain a social life made him such a significant figure. If women wish to escape the invasive attention of heterosexual men, they must learn polite inattention in many western nations.

Civil inattention is known as the quiet and inconspicuous scanning of others that enables neutral engagement. One recognizes their existence by making fleeting eye contact with an approaching stranger and rules off further interaction or discussion. Thus, civil inattention uses socially acceptable techniques of self-distancing to provide privacy among a crowd.

Elements of Civil  Inattention

1.  Civil inattention entails respecting others’ right to privacy while in public.

2. People act in such a way as to be courteous and to let others know they are not dangerous to them.

The negative impact 

It lessens the desire to feel responsible for the welfare of others and might cause feelings of isolation or invisibility.

Mutual and reciprocal sanction

When person A shows people scant attention, it approves and sanctions their actions. Others say there is nothing wrong with it, and there is no need to interfere with what person A is doing. Person A  also exhibits this and has this opinion of himself.

What happens when civil inattention is not provided?

People may become irritated or upset when they are not shown polite inattention in public.


For instance, one person’s gaze may pass over the other without directly interacting, or they may immediately detach if a more direct engagement seems about to take place.

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