Dramaturgical Analysis of Occupational Performances

free essayDuring interaction with other people, an individual would change his or her settings in order to regulate the impression that the people may have. On the other hand, those people that the individual is interacting with will try to conceive as well as obtain any information from the individual interacting with them. In essence, all participants in any given interaction often do certain activities that would ensure that they are neither embarrassed nor humiliating others. It is from this concept that Goffman conceived the dramaturgical analysis. Goffman perceived a connection between theatrical performances and the acts that people engage in on a daily basis in life (Sociology: dramaturgical analysis of social interaction n.d., p. 1).

Erving Goffman, the “greatest Sociologist of the latter half of the 20th C”, is the best-known 20th century dramaturgical theorist. He borrowed the idea of dramaturgical theory from William Shakespeare. The play writer had noted that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players” (Kivisto & Pittman 2007, p. 272). Goffman showed concern with regards to daily life interactions between people that are often undertaken together. Sociologists have used dramaturgical theory, which is based on social interaction, to explain why we behave in a particular manner and likened us, social actors, to actors in a theatrical presentation, i.e. stage actors (Rogers 2011, p. 284).

Just like in our lives, major productions often have much taking place internally and externally. However, productions often come with actors, props, scripts, directors, costumes as well as front stages and back stages. In addition, production comes with main and back-up characters as well as the roles played by various actors. Goffman’s approach of dramaturgical analysis enables us to understand how we often get worried about our “audience” when we act and how our performance would be judged by the audience as they try to see whether we slip and show our real performance “behind the scenes” (Sociology: dramaturgical analysis of social interaction n.d., p.1).

Most people have goals as well as expectations in life and employ “expression management” in order to achieve them. In any given situation, most individuals will perform to their level best so as to meet their expectations. Such performances will usually be exhibited at work, in schools as well as before friends and family as we put forth presentations of ourselves having our environment in mind. In essence, our actions in every given situation will always be distinct. Our actions reflect the scenario in most productions as they usually have an overall theme that guides the play. Actors in plays often labor to convey certain impressions of the surrounding to their audience. According to Goffman, it is the very process of the presentation when the self arises. This means that Goffman’s major concern is not the individual, but rather the interaction of individuals within the “team” amongst themselves (Kivisto & Pittman 2007, p. 273). The individuals within the team collaborate so as to build effective impressions of reality.


Goffman carefully uses the analogy of a theater to show how individuals convince those around them to believe in and accept a given social setting (Mireles 2009, p. 11). Collaborative effort is critical for a performance to be admirable and for it to be complete with roles, costumes, scripts as well as stage. It is until this is done that the audience would receive a coherent picture of reality from the actors. However, Goffman points out that in stage performance actors play the role assigned to them in the play as opposed to social interaction where each and every individual displays attributes that he/she perceives to be true in their lives. For social actors, the roles they play are significant as they create and sustain their perception of life as well as how they view reality. However, it is clear that authenticity of any behavior displayed in the public does not reflect reality (Collett & Childs 2009, p. 690).

In the dramaturgical analysis, roles refer to a particular set of behaviors as well as actions that actors are bound to carry out of situations we are placed in. They are like our statuses (Giddens & Griffiths 2006, p. 142). Examples of roles include being fathers, mothers, daughters, brothers, nieces, and nephews. The kind of jobs individuals do can also define their roles, such as doctors, preachers, waiters as well as police officers. The given examples may not apply to everyone, but they reflect the roles that each and every individual has to play in life. These roles or “statuses” are usually part of our own lives, but it is notable that they are sometimes overlooked and not obvious. This happens especially when we are acting for roles other than the statuses in question. For example, Simon who is a doctor is a nephew to his aunt Martha who is his mother’s sister. Despite the fact that Martha is Simon’s aunt, he will not always show that he is the nephew to Martha while he is playing his role as a doctor in the hospital. In the hospital, the role of the doctor is quite intense and the mind is inclined towards offering help to patients more than any other thing (Sociology: dramaturgical analysis of social interaction n.d., p. 1).

According to Goffman, there are three different regions in stage drama and even in real life situation. Each region has totally different effects on the performance of any individual. The regions include the front stage, back stage as well as the off stage. Mansvelt (2005, p. 89) notes that front stage refers to a place where an individual formally plays his or her part as an actor and is aware that he or she is being watched by the audience. The back stage is the region in which the actor is no longer before the audience and may behave differently. In the back stage, the individual assumes his or her real character traits as the roles he or she plays while in the front page are forgotten. The off stage appears to an intermediate region between the front and the back stage where the actor meets members of the audience outside the front stage. In situations where the audience is segmented as such, the actor may give specific performances. The audience may also perceive some differences between the actor they meet at the front stage and the individual they encounter at the off stage (Sociology: dramaturgical analysis of social interaction n.d., p. 1).

For instance, one would sit and pay keen attention and even ask questions while at school and in class. This forms the individual’s front stage behavior. When the same individual goes home, he or she may lay on the couch before turning on the television and seizing to think about school. This becomes the back stage for school in the life of the individual. While we are “on front page” at our work places, we put on our best; nice faces and happy attitudes, act kindly towards our customers and even co-workers most of the times. However, once we shift to our “back stage” – home, the season of bad mouthing sets, speaking of how much you hate a few co-workers and even the boss and how you would have slapped that rude customer you handled in the course of the day if you would have been given the chance to do so (Sociology: dramaturgical analysis of social interaction n.d., p. 1).

Ritzer (2005, p. 398) notes that in social interaction impression management seems to be an inescapable feature. This implies that back stage is as real as the front stage. However, the front stage presentation of life is different and incompatible with the front stage. It is because of our acting so differently when at back stage from front stage and vice versa that Goffman refers to us as actors in his dramaturgical analysis. When we are on front stage, we usually put on our best to prove to the audience how flawless we are in displaying our skills and this defines our credibility and reputation. If we mess up during the presentation, then our credibility would be jeopardized. The concept of dramaturgy explains that we often hide our true feelings when we are with certain people and display a totally different impression (Andersen, Taylor & Kokayi 2007, p. 104). We are found covering our negative feelings when we are amidst others and putting on happy face even when issues weigh us down. Dramaturgy can rather be compared to politics in which politicians would convince the audience to believe what they say is truth even if they are mere fallacies, as is often the case (Sociology: dramaturgical analysis of social interaction n.d., p. 1).

This explains why each and every individual in a group always performs to the best of their ability. Our actions often go so deep to an extent that we have ourselves convinced that all the time we are what we act. This is often a face-saving strategy that most individuals will often embrace. The face-saving behavior pushes people to go even to the extremes just to ensure that things are kept at constant state of stability, more so when something seems embarrassing (Smith 2006, p. 43). For example, when an individual overlooks the mistakes that have been done by “other” actors, he/or she will make excuses for errors he or she has made or give excuses for other “people’s” mistakes. We are thus actually displaying the face-saving behavior (Sociology: dramaturgical analysis of social interaction n.d., p. 1).

The examination of interaction of individuals through the lens of Goffman’s concept enables us to clearly understand the interactions that occur in organizations. Cornelissen (2004, p. 713) notes that dramaturgical theory has proved to be significant in carrying a organized study of behavior within organizations. Before the theatre analogy, there was little machinery that could enable one to express and articulate the dramas that were experienced in organizations. Unlike other types of performance, theatre has a ‘real-time’ quality attached to it in which events unfold sequentially within a tight framework of predesigned behaviors, just as in organizations. Therefore, by making real-world inferences with regards to the nature as well as the dynamics of the life of any organization, the theatrical metaphor is supremely efficient.

A common set of symbols that is used to relay ideas, otherwise referred to as language, is the most significant facilitator of any social action. Arguably, language forms the foundation on which self, shared beliefs as well as social institutions are based. The utility within this set of commonly shared symbols in evoking shared concepts makes them good signifiers that can efficiently convey these ideas. These potent symbols are known as metaphors and are an indispensable communication tool. Essentially, metaphors enable one to link actions to familiar concepts. It efficiently facilitates communication as well as shared understandings between members of a society (Robinson 2008, p. 1).

In American culture, full breasts are a powerful symbol as they represent sexuality, maturity, femininity, and worth. Goffman argues that it is natural for an individual to adopt the “ideal look” in the society in order to impress the audience. A research was carried out in order to understand why young women would opt for breast surgery or use breast padding. It found out that the main reason was to create a good impression of themselves to the audience. The front stage and back stage performance is exemplified by these women would prefer to have breast implantation for graduation. Seven theoretical paradigms can be used to better explain why the girls would opt for breast implantations. These include: symbolic interactionist theory, self-discrepancy theory, feminist theory, reference group theory, social consumption theory, conspicuous consumption theory as well as social construction reality theory (Fowler 2008, p. 83).

Symbolic interaction theory enables us to understand how women change their costumes while they are at the back stage so as to change how the audience will view them once they arrive at the front stage. Implant surgery, cotton puddings as well as filled water bras characterize the back stage. Before surgery, the women in the narrative used water bras as well as heavy cotton padding to fake their breast to create good impression among the audience. Some hide their backstage even from their boyfriends as well as friends. These efforts that are made at the back stage allows the women to believe that the audience perceives them as beautiful, well-endowed, and quite of value to the society. The women narrate how many in the front stage could not tell that they had actually gone through surgery. Despite the fact that both the padding and the saline implants were false, the changes became authentic in the minds of the women (Fowler 2008, p. 83).

Social construction and reality theory help us understand why daughters as well as mothers opted for breast implants for graduation. In the society, social differences are created by gender construction thereby defining whether an individual is a “man” or “woman”. While referring to their daughters in the pre-surgery state, mothers sounded as if something was physically wrong with their daughters. On the other hand, daughters desired to conform to the societal gender construction and to also accomplish their gender. They labored to appear feminine and more beautiful, but not like “boys” (Fowler 2008, p. 88).

The conspicuous consumption theory gave a demonstration of how cosmetic surgery practice that was earlier common among wealthy individuals is gaining ground among the new middle class. Breast augmentation allows the women to demonstrate their personal style of life as well as status. It makes them appear to the audience as wealthy and of high status. Production of images as goods has enabled consumers to purchase some body parts that are iconic. This allows other individuals to buy the size and shape of famous as well as rich individuals (Fowler 2008, p. 90).

Social comparison theory, reference group, and self-discrepancy theory relate how behavior and attitude of certain individuals are influenced by people in sociological as well as psychological disciplines (Fowler 2008, p. 92). Reference group theory provides an avenue through which one can understand how comparisons with other significant groups can influence women. The reference groups more or less provide a yardstick that enables certain individuals to gauge their rating with regards to the standard group. The reference group therefore influences the behavior of the individuals who view them as the standard group. Most who were interviewed indicated that their close friends, coworkers as well as fellow sorority sisters acted as their reference groups (2008, p. 93).

Social comparison theory, on the other hand, enables us to understand how women actually emulate media icons. They compare themselves to individuals they believe are more beautiful than they are in the media so as to improve their own beauty. Most ladies bought magazines and compared themselves with the individuals they felt had normal breasts and even pressed their parents to understand that they had abnormal breasts and needed breast augmentation. The programs watched on television further reinforced how an ideal woman should look like in the mind of the women who sought breast augmentation (Fowler 2008, p. 95).

Self-discrepancy theory explains that although some women idealize themselves with media images, the practice is not healthy and may result in the individual involved having a negative attitude towards herself. Some of them do not feel pretty even after undergoing breast augmentation. They still feel that something ought to be done to make them a perfect match with their icons (Fowler 2008, p. 97). The women act in this manner in order to conform to the norms of femininity in the society. Even though they strive to show those who are at the front stage that they are impressive, at the back stage reality downs on them, thus causing the feeling of resentment towards their own body.

It is logical for different aspects of theatrical presentations to be compared closely and easily to aspects of our lives. The comparisons are quite significant as they inform us that how we always carry ourselves is not usually constant. No matter what, it is evident that our socialization is often influenced by where we actually are, the people we are with, and the time at which we are to act. It is therefore true that we are all actors while the world is a stage and all of us must play our assigned role on that stage. The identity of an individual at any given time is a product of the interaction between the individual and the complex surrounding. Almost all individuals in the society would find themselves exhibiting a face-saving behavior in one way or another.

Steps banner