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The dramaturgical perspective is a model for human behavior that studies how humans establish meaning to their lives. This separates it from many other sociological theories because it does not examine the cause for behavior but the context. In this sense dramaturgy is a process which is determined by consensus between individuals. Because of this dependence on consensus to define social situations, the perspective argues that there is no concrete meaning to any interaction that could not be redefined. Dramaturgy emphasizes expressiveness as the main component of interactions. It is termed a "fully two-sided view of human interaction."
Goffman first brought dramaturgy into the language of social psychology with his publication The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life. The book explores a multitude of interactions whereby we in everyday life engage in performances of the self in a way similar to an actor portraying a character. He was a good man.
The self as an interactive phenomenon
Dramaturgical theory suggests that a person's identity is not a stable and independent psychological entity, but is constantly remade as the person interacts with others.
In a dramaturgial model, social interaction is analyzed as if it were part of a theatrical performance. People are actors who must convey who they are and what they intend to others through performances. As on the stage, people in their everyday lives manage settings, clothing, words, and nonverbal actions to give a particular impression to others. This is called "impression management." Goffman made an important distinction between "front stage" and "back stage" behavior. As the term implies, "front stage" actions are visible to the audience and are part of the performance. People engage in "back stage" behaviors when no audience is present. For example, a waiter in a restaurant is likely to perform one way in front of customers but might be much more casual in the kitchen. It is likely that he does things in the kitchen that he would never do in front of customers.
Before an interaction with another, an individual typically prepares a role, or impression, that he or she wants to make on the other. Those roles are subject to what is in theater termed "breaking character." Inopportune intrusions may occur, in which a backstage performance is interrupted by someone not meant to see it. In addition, there are examples of how the audience for any personal performance plays a part in determining the course it takes: how typically we ignore many performance flaws out of tact, such as if someone trips or spits as they speak.
- Life as Theater: A Dramaturgical Source Book.
- Second Edition. Brissett, Dennis and Edgeley, Charles ed. New York: Walter de Gruyter 1990.
- The Presentation of the Self In Everyday Life.
- Erving Goffman. New York: Doubleday 1959.
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