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Goffman's Dramaturgical Analysis

Goffman's Dramaturgical Analysis

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the key components of dramaturgical analysis, including the concepts of front stage and back stage.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain, Hotel Room Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on Goffman's Dramaturgical Analysis. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.


So today, we're looking at dramaturgical analysis. Now, this was an idea that was brought about by Erving Goffman. Again, he's a name you see throughout sociology literature.

He's a sociologist. And he really focused on the idea that humans act differently in different settings. And we need to really judge people on the specific context of actions, and not just in general the big look at society.

Now, dramaturgical analysis is what we're focusing on today. So what is that? It's really an idea that he proposed in this book called The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life. And he set it up as social interactions can really be seen as a performance where individuals or individuals and groups actually are presenting themselves through performance.

And there's really three distinct non-physical places that this happens. There's the front stage, the backstage, and offstage. So let's first look at front stage. This is where the social interaction happens. Performers know they're being observed. And so if you look at that idea of it being a play, this is actually happening front on stage.

I'm going to use an example through all these here of a waiter or a group of waiters even. When they're at your table, and they're taking your order, and they're seating you, and they're checking how your food was, that action you consider being front stage. This is the route of where the social interaction is happening.

Now, behind the scenes, we call the backstage. So there's performers, but there's no audience. Now, here people can let their guard down. They can step out of character. But they never really truly step out of character because there's still other people around.

For an example of that, let's take those waiters again. If you go back to the back room, and the waiters are sitting around complaining about customers, saying when they got a good tip, what their plans for the weekends are, there they are backstage. The performers are there, but there is no audience.

Now, the third one is off-stage. Now, this is where performers interact with audience members independently from the onstage performance. Using that same example there, you could think of if you have a waiter you see all the time at your local favorite restaurant, and then you go to a movie, and you run into the waiter and his wife. That would be something that's happening off-stage. Now, this interaction, the performers in some way are still might say-- they might be in character in some form, even when they're off-stage. But it's not the same kind of interaction is when it's front stage.

Now, Goffman had seven different elements of the performance. And I'm going to really briefly go through these. It's not really important that you know any of these specifics. But I think it will help paint a good picture for in general what he's looking at.

Again, these are the seven elements of the performance. So there's belief. So the individual is either acting or is genuine. Then there's a front. And that's a part of the performance that is standardized.

Then the idea of drama, that people express things dramatically. Then idealization, actor's actions are idealized by the standards of society. Expressive control where people have to control their expressions. Misrepresentation, so people want to avoid being seen as false. And then deception, certain elements of information can be kept from the audience.

So again, I'm not going to go into too much detail explaining all these different parts or how they work together. But it's a nice broad look at it all so that you can get a sense of what he's looking at here when he's looking at the elements of performance.

Today's takeaway message, Goffman's Dramaturgical Analysis is the idea that social interactions can be seen as a performance. And this was presented originally in his book, Presentations of the Self in Everyday Life. And then, there were three different stages. But for the takeaway message, we're just focusing on two. We have front stage where the performers are on stage and actually performing. And backstage where the performers are there, but there's no audience.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully, you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Back Stage

In dramaturgical analysis, this is the social space where performers are present, but an audience is not.

Dramaturgical Analysis (Erving Goffman)

The idea that people's day-to-day lives can be understood as resembling performers in action on a theater stage.

Front Stage

In dramaturgical analysis, this is where a performance takes place in front of an audience.

Presentation of Self (Erving Goffman)

Phrase used to describe a person's efforts to create a specific impression in the minds of others.