The present dissertation takes the multi-faceted phenomenon of deception as its point of departure. The aim is to make a case for deception as a social phenomenon, and to frame theoretically and define the skills and abilities that make deception possible.
A theoretical model based on a number of ideal types is constructed. The purpose of the model is to differentiate particular aspects of deception, and the model is illustrated with examples of actions of more or less well-known impostors. The examples were collected from a variety of sources, such as autobiographies and television programs.
As a first step, the legal definition of deception, i.e. fraud, and statistics on crimes of deception in Sweden are presented. Different theoretical approaches are also discussed; deception as a personality trait, and deception as communication and interaction.
In order to illuminate the social dimensions, it is emphasized that deception constitutes a particular type of relationship between deceiver and deceivee. This particular form of interaction exploits elementary forms, and it is also asymmetrical in terms of the intentions of the parties involved.
The concept of social competence is used to describe the skills and abilities required for successful acts of deception. It is argued that the social competence of deceivers consists of three types: strategic, normative, and dramaturgic competencies. The strategic competency involves being goal-rational and strategic, for example, the ability to predict the actions of the potential addressee. In the normative competency, norms and reference to norms are used strategically. The dramaturgic competency represents an operationalization and enactment of the two other competencies, and resembles the preparation and performance of an actor.
The different contexts in which deception can occur are also discussed. A preliminary typology is presented, with the aim of demonstrating the difficulties in drawing clear lines between various types of deception. The extended approach to deception also means that it can be viewed as a part of everyday social interaction.
Finally, some thoughts on deception in the light of societal changes are presented. It is argued that the increasing demands on people to promote themselves in various ways in todays society can be perceived as an invitation to deception and fabrication. These demands can generate feelings of inferiority and a fear of eventually being unmasked as an impostor, or a phony.