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Dramaturgical Theory. Presented by: Janelle Kluczynski , Toni Rence, Samantha Savaglio, & Rod Strut. “The Great Stage of Human Life” – Philebus . Erving Goffman (1922 –1982). Main theorist of the Dramaturgical Theory Schooled in symbolic interaction theory

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dramaturgical theory

Dramaturgical Theory

Presented by:

Janelle Kluczynski, Toni Rence,

Samantha Savaglio, & Rod Strut

“The Great Stage of Human Life” – Philebus

erving goffman 1922 1982
Erving Goffman (1922 –1982)
  • Main theorist of the Dramaturgical Theory
  • Schooled in symbolic interaction theory
  • Extended Mead’s basic insights by viewing everyday human behavior as distinctly dramatic, or theatrical
  • His works include:
    • The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956) (1959)
    • Behavior in Public Places (1963)
    • Relations in Public (1971)
    • “Role Distance” (1961)
    • “Where the Action is” (1967)

Wood (2004)

erving goffman cont d
Erving Goffman Cont’d
  • Developed theoretical insights into the drama inherent in routine social life
  • Skillfully observed and theorized how people perform in everyday life
  • Once wrote that “it is social situations that provide the natural theatre in which all bodily displays are enacted and in which all bodily displays are read.”
    • Emphasizes Goffman’s focus on how physical, or bodily, actions are used per formatively to craft and project impressions of individuals and to define the nature of particular situations.
  • His theorizing provides a basis for understanding human interaction in everyday life

Wood (2004)

theatrical metaphor
Theatrical Metaphor
  • Extended metaphorical description that explores social world as if it were a theatrical performance
    • We all hide behind a set of masks
  • Questions the idea of personal identity
  • Tom Burns compares it to a Russian Doll- a series of selves, one inside of the other (B106-107)
  • Similar to Goffman’s Game-theory
    • We all play a game in which we attempt to strategically outwit our rivals for personal gain
influenced by
Influenced By
  • Kenneth Burke
    • Grammar of Motives and Permanence and Change
      • Behavior and the motives behind them
  • Marcel Mauss
    • Linked the theatrical analogy with ritual (b109)
  • Victor Turner
    • Tied dramaturgical expressiveness and the ritual meanings it utilized (b109)
  • Lévi-Strauss (b110)
    • The Savage Mind
      • Ritual has a reconciling and reunifying function
siac schema
SIAC Schema
  • Acronym developed by Philip Manning based on Goffman’s teachings
    • Attempts to specify broad assumptions people use in social interactions
  • Situational Propriety
    • Meanings of actions are derived from the context in which they are used
    • Must have knowledge of situation to understand behavior
    • Types of Contexts
      • Encounters- single focus of attention
      • Social Occasions-event justifies existence
      • Social Gatherings- loose groupings
      • Social Situations- broadest
  • Involvement
    • Capacity to give or withhold proper attention to the activity
  • Accessibility
    • Being accessible to friends and strangers
    • Keeps us as members of a common social world
    • Ex- common courtesies such as telling the time or giving directions
  • Civil Inattention
    • Willingness to be seen
    • A sign of deference
    • Respect we give to and owe from strangers
      • Ex- avoiding eye contact in an elevator
dramaturgical model
Dramaturgical Model
  • This model relates ordinary social interaction to theatrical performance
  • The setting, or context, of interaction is viewed as a stage
  • The people who are “acting” are actors and those who are “watching” are the audience
  • Everyday humans are performing as if in a play

Wood (2004)

the 6 dramaturgical principles
The 6 Dramaturgical Principles
  • Performances
  • Team
  • Region
  • Discrepant roles
  • Communication out of characters
  • Impression Management
dramaturgical principle performance p41 42
Dramaturgical Principle: Performance (p41-42)
  • “All activity of a given participant on a given occasion that serves to influence in any way any of the other participants” (40)
  • In order to be successful, actors must convince audience that their performance is reality
  • Must be “idealized”- put in the best light, compatible with cultural norms and values
    • Can also be “negative idealizations”- worst light
  • “Mystification”- maintaining a distance from the audience to appear more interesting
  • Are often misrepresented because symbolic ideas can be easily persuaded
    • Ex- forging a birth certificate to pass as aristocracy
performance con t
Performance Con’t
  • Difference in tone and intensity distinguishes stage acting from “acting-out” (which goes on in everyday conversation
  • “Front Stage”- a set of stereotyped expectations
    • Props, appropriate facial expressions, role attitudes
  • “Back Stage”- time and space for the preparation of procedures, disguises, and materials

Wood (2004)

dramaturgical principle team p42
Dramaturgical Principle: Team (p42)
  • Successful performances are usually done by teams
  • Can be compared to as secret societies
  • Run by Directors

Wood (2004)

dramaturgical principle regions p 42 43
Dramaturgical Principle: Regions (p 42-43)
  • Perform in “Front Regions”
    • In order to succeed, there must be an agreement between the team and the audience that what is portrayed is actual reality
  • Rehearse in the “Back Regions”
    • Space to rehearse, where disguises and materials are stored (b112)
  • A “Guarded Passageway” connects these two regions
    • Ex- Funeral Parlor
  • These regions allow teams to keep secretes

Wood (2004)

dramaturgical principle discrepant roles
Dramaturgical Principle: Discrepant Roles
  • People with these roles try to gain access to team secretes by pretending to be part of the team
  • Attempt to gain access to backstage
  • Most have a right to access this area but abuse the privilege for their own gain
  • Examples- informer, confidant, colleague, mediator, servant

Wood (2004)

dramaturgical principle discrepant roles p 43
Dramaturgical Principle: Discrepant Roles(p 43)
  • 5 types of secretes that teams have
    • “Dark Secrets”- incompatible with team’s image
    • “Strategic Secrets”- what the team plans to do
    • “Inside Secrets”- identify a person as a team member
    • “Entrusted Secrets”- demonstrate trustworthiness
    • “Free Secrets”- disclosed without discrediting team performance
dramaturgical principle communication out of principle p 43 44
Dramaturgical Principle: Communication Out of Principle(p 43-44)
  • Performers disclose information that damages their face
  • 4 Forms of out-of-character outbursts
    • “Treatment of the absent”- involves uncomplimentary role-playing or terms of reference
    • “Staging Talk”- meant to assure others that everything went well
    • “Team collusion”- allows the audience to have a special relationship with the team
    • “Realigning actions”- recourse to humor
      • Ex- saying “it was a joke”
dramaturgical principle impression management p 44
Dramaturgical Principle: Impression Management (p 44)
  • Avoid projected self to be confused with a presented self
  • Depends on audience to limit any interactional damage
  • “Wild Card”- adding uncertainty to the conversation

Wood (2004)

impression management
Impression Management
  • The process of managing setting, words, nonverbal communication, and dress in an effort to create a particular image of individuals and situations
  • Our efforts to create and project certain impressions may be either highly calculated or unintentional – Goffman (1959)
  • We may be highly strategic in crafting an image but unaware we are creating an impression
  • Many believe it is manipulative and deceitful
    • It can be, however, deceptive and unethical

Wood (2004)

ways we manage impressions in everyday life
Ways We Manage Impressions in Everyday Life

Women remove hair from bodies:



Act differently when with friends, then with family

Professional interactions and personal interactions

Drinking straight from the carton when at home, but when in front of others using a glass

Look as though you are paying attention in class to get the approval of a professor

Hiding your accents in front of people

Dressing professionally in front of professors and not in front of family and friends

Wood (2004)

  • “Embarrassment and Social Organization” (1965)
  • We are guardians of face-to-face situations
  • Motive is to protect social situations
  • We project a self that has positive social value
    • Known as a person’s “face”
  • Protecting our “face” makes us monitor our actions
  • Face-work “makes our actions consistent with out projected selves” (g39)
    • Maintained through avoidance or corrective actions
  • The result of face-work is a “ritual equilibrium”
  • Embarrassment occurs when a projected self is not maintained
  • Loss of face occurs when the projected self and the actual self does not coordinate together
  • Models we rely on to make sense of experience
  • We rely onframesto define situations for ourselves and others
  • We learn frames through interaction with the generalized other, or society as a whole
  • Members of a society or a social community share many common frames for interaction
  • Typically reflect cultural knowledge
    • Vary from culture to culture

Wood (2004)

role performance
Role Performance
  • Role- represents routines or modes of behavior appropriate to specific social positions (b 107)
  • Comprised of
    • inventiveness and improvisation
    • Meaningful content- posture, movements, gestures, wording
      • Learned by imitation, practice, and experience
    • Stamina, timing, and judgment

Wood (2004)

levels of euphoria
Levels of Euphoria
  • Levels of euphoria are based on contextual norms
  • An inappropriate level can indicate a “faulty person”
  • “Euphoric” Occasions
    • When exchanges run smoothly with minimal embarrassment
  • “Dysphoric” Occasions
    • When exchanges are “derailed” due to

Wood (2004)

criticism on erving goffman
Criticism on Erving Goffman
  • Lack of Clarity… Does “Life is Drama” as a metaphor explain this theory thoroughly?
  • Wood says, “Bruce Wiltshire (1977) argues that theater use as a metaphor, but limited as a description of social life and interaction among people”, (2004, p.124).
  • Bruce Gronbeck argues if the Dramaturgical model fits more into Art or Science, (1980).Gronbeck also points out that the Dramaturgical Model can be used in many diverse fields of studies like; Political Science, Sociology, Criminology, Psychology, Mass Communication, Anthropology, and Psychiatry; therefore, “exploring the dramaturgical perspective [can] generate lawful relationships that can perhaps be molded into full-blown scientistic theories,”(Gronbeck, 1980, pp. 315-16).

Gronbeck, B.E. (1980). Dramaturgical theory and criticism: The state of art (or science?). The Western Journal of Speech Communication, 44, 315-330.

Wood, J. (2004). Communication theories in action: An introduction (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA, Wadsworth)

criticism on goffman cont d
Criticism on Goffman Cont’d
  • Front Stage/ Back Stage
    • David and Cheryl Albas (2007)say that, “front stage/back stage is considered ‘the game’, and it is used to bring out the fun aspects of encounters,” (p. 554).
    • “Goffman turned away from interactional concerns (the traditional focus of sociology)” to focus on how people interpreted different events and situations, “which may have different meanings (a dispute or a joke) by ‘applying the relevant frame’,” (C, Albas, & D, Albas, 2007, pp. 554-55).
  • Impression Management
    • Barry Schwartz (1981) claims Goffman never analyzes the authenticity of one’s performance; therefore, “performances rather than purposes become problematic,” (p. 201).
    • “Interaction thus becomes a matter of managing impressions,” (Schwartz,1981,p. 201).

Albas, C.,& Albas, D. (2007). Cognitions, emotions, and identities. Contemporary sociology, 36 (6), 553-555.

Schwartz, B. (1981). Review. The American Journal of Sociology, 87 (1), 201-204

critical assessment of dramaturgical theory
Critical Assessment of Dramaturgical Theory

People find this theory both accurate and useful

Metaphor or Reality?

Lacks clarity

Whether is claim to offer a metaphor for life or a factual description of life

Bruce Wiltshire (1977) argues that theater is useful as a metaphorislimited as a description of social life and interaction among people

Wood (2004)

criticism continued
Criticism Continued

Too Speculative?

More speculative than empirical

An Interest Group, Not a Theory?

Wood (2004)