Socialized Self: Erving Goffman's 'Dramaturgy'

(Erving Goffman)
Erving Goffman was a Canadian-born sociologist who discussed and contributed to symbolic interaction. He was considered to be the twentieth century's most influential American sociologist, and he gained this title with his research on social interaction and the social construction of self, among many others. His most well-known concept is Dramaturgy -- the illustration of human behavior through theatre.

Dramaturgy consists of three components: the front stage, the back stage, and the impression management.

Front Stage:

The front stage is where, according to Goffman, the actor's (or individual's) actions are visible to the audience (co-workers, date, etc.), and is part of their act. These actions function in a "general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance." (The Presentation of Everyday Life)

An example of this would be a politician who is campaigning. When in front of the press and journalists, the politician comes off as very charismatic because he wants to give off the vibe that he is a good guy and the right choice for the position that he is campaigning for. He does this by showing the audience that he speaks well, is polite, is well-read, is relatable etc.

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Back Stage:

The back stage is where the actor relaxes and behaves in a way that is not often seen by the public. The actor drops impression management and behaves as his/her true self. Though the actor does not engage in impression management, it is at this stage where it is practiced. According to Goffman, the actor "can drop his front, forego speaking his lines, and step out of character." (The Presentation of Everyday Life)

Going back to the example of the politician, this is the stage where he is able to relax in a comfortable place and behave unscripted. He could be at a park with his family, being a goofy dad, or at a bar shooting pool, while joking around with his friends.

Impression Management:

Impression management is the conscious or unconscious script that actors mentally use to regulate the impressions that others may develop for him/her. The actor achieves this by controlling information during social engagements.

A politician, for example, could use impression management to sway voters' perspectives of him by manipulating their opinions with great, passionate speeches that make them feel comfortable. He can make himself attractive by bringing up goals or policies that the majority of voters want to hear about and offer solutions to these concerns.

Through his observations, Goffman noticed that regular, everyday people were very similar to actors and actresses. They both have characteristics and movements for when they are on-stage and for when they are off-stage and have a script that helps them act when they are in front of an audience. Do you agree with Goffman's concept of Dramaturgy? What about my interpretation of his work? Share your thoughts below.

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