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Dramaturgical Analysis in Sociology: Definition, Examples & Quiz

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Taught by

Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Dramaturgical analysis is the idea that people's day-to-day lives can be understood as resembling performers in action on a theater stage. Learn more about dramaturgical analysis and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition

Erving Goffman (1922-1982) was a sociologist who analyzed social interaction, explaining that people live their lives much like actors performing on a stage. As we present ourselves in various situations, we are much like actors putting on performances for their audience.

Theatre

Definition and Examples

Our life, according to Goffman, is a series of performances. Let's take a look at some of this theory's key concepts and ideas:

Presentation of the Self

Do you act differently in front of your boss than your best friends? Your coworkers compared to your children? What about your posts on Facebook? Goffman argued that we put on different performances based on who our audience is.

The presentation of the self is a person's efforts to create specific impressions in the minds of others. This process, sometimes called impression management, begins with the performances we carry out each day. Our performances might include the way we dress (our costume), the objects we carry or use (our props), and our tone of voice and gestures. We might also vary our performances based on where we are (the set). Most people would act differently in a church than a local bar or restaurant. People also design their own homes and offices to bring about a desired impression or reaction in others.

Impression Management

Central to Goffman's theory is the notion of impression management. In this, he argues that all social situations with two or more people involve attempting to persuade others of your definition of the situation. If, for example, you are buying a new car, the salesperson will attempt to convince you that you need to have a pricier vehicle because you are a deserving person who works hard. You are trying to construct a definition that suggests that while you appreciate the added perks of a pricier vehicle, you also have financial considerations to take into account. It becomes a struggle over who is more convincing of their definition of that particular situation.

Setting and Stages

The setting for the performance includes the scenery, props, and location in which the interaction takes place. Different settings will have different audiences and will thus require an individual to alter his or her performances for each setting. The front stage is where an individual performs for his or her 'audience,' while the back stage is where an individual would prepare for those various performances.

For example, imagine you are going on a job interview. Prior to your interview, you would do various things to prepare. You would shower, do your hair, pick out what to wear, and maybe even rehearse the answers to interview questions. These preparations take place in the back stage. As you walk into your interview, your performance begins and you put on a show for your 'audience.' In this case, your audience would be your potential employer(s).

Interview

Lesson Summary

Dramaturgical analysis is the idea that people's day-to-day lives can be understood as resembling performers in action on a theater stage. As we interact with various people, we try to convince them of our own definition of the situation. Goffman described each performance as the presentation of the self, or impression management. We prepare for each performance in the back stage, while our individual performances take place in the front stage.

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