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Erving Goffman (1922-1982) was a major Canadian – American sociologist who played a significant role in the advancement of modern American sociology. He is reflected to be, one of the most persuasive sociologist of the 20th century and celebrated as one key figure in the growth of the dramaturgical perspective. His famous works include the presentation of self in everyday life published in 1959. Goffman believed that the individuals continuously perform for each other during their everyday interactions. What others see is hardly a person’s ”true self” rather it is a false set of behaviours used to complete the performance. We pass our roles in the company of others, who are in turn passes their roles in the interaction with us. Thus, according to Goffman, whatever we do, we are playing out some character on the platform of life.

Goffman is undoubtedly one of the most as significant sociologists in relation to the self. The basic idea of self-presentation is that our actions in the social world are ”acts”, and that when we act, we put on a front in order to project a certain image of ourselves. This front is in turn created and maintained by manipulating the setting in which we perform, as well as our appearance, and the manner in which we present ourselves. Goffman puts forth a theory of social interaction that he refers to as the dramaturgical model of social life (Hogan, 2010). He analysed social interaction, explaining that people live their lives much like actors performing on a stage and developed the concept of dramaturgy, the idea that life is like a never- ending play in which people are actors on a theatre stage.

Goffman’s approach is sometimes stated to as the dramaturgical model. It provides a complete arrangement of the different ways in which people manage the image and impressions of themselves that they present in their lives. His dramaturgical approach is a metaphorical technique used to explain how an individual grants an “idealized” rather than real version of oneself. In the front stage, people are trying to present an idealized version of the self, according to a specific role: to be an appropriate server, lecturer, audience member, and so forth. There is also a back region, or ‘back stage’, where individuals can relax, be themselves, and the role or identity that they play when they are in front of others.

Goffman described each individual’s ”performance” as the presentation of self, a person’s efforts to create specific impressions in the minds of others. This process is sometimes called ”impression management”, where in each individuals try to present themselves and behave accordingly in order to prevent the embarrassment of themselves or others. It is a person’s effort to create specific impressions in the mind of others. This process of impression management begins with the performances we carry out each day (Research starters, 2018). For example, people characterize themselves in a chosen way by changing everything to do with their performance. This is very noticeable among teenagers as they are often unaware of the kind of person they want to be but in order to fit in and be accepted, they are constantly modifying their performance by being an audience to others that they admire. Our performances might include the way we dress (our costume), the objects we carry or use, and our tone of voice and gestures.

Much like a Stage play (rather than the script), it is bounded in space and time, and represents the example of specific roles. Players seek to perform their role as convincingly as possible, and for the show to succeed there is much work that must take place behind the scenes.
Dramaturgical theory suggests that a person’s identity is not a stable and independent psychological entity, but rather, it is constantly remade as the person interacts with others. In a dramaturgical model, social interaction is analysed in terms of how people live their live like actors performing on stage. On the stage, people like in their everyday lives, they tend to manage settings, clothing, words, and nonverbal actions to give a particular impression to others.

Goffman makes an important distinction ”front stage” and ”back stage” behaviour. During our everyday life, we spend most of our lives on the front stage, where we get to deliver our lines and perform. Activities such as weeding, classroom lecture, and dinner table can be a front stage as it occurs in situations in which we interact with others in public or professional settings. The concept implies, ”front stage” actions are visible to the audience and are part of the performance. People engage in ”back stage” behaviours when no audience is present. In these private areas, we don’t have to act. We can be our real selves and can also practice and prepare for our return to the front stage. For example, a lecturer will prepare for his/her lecture at home on a computer sitting at a desk with a cup of coffee in pyjamas. But then the next day when goes
to class, he has to wear nicer clothes and has to think about how he wants to present this material in a positive way.

People who have participated in a school play or some other type of performance will know all about front stage and back- stage. Here the meanings are quite literal—a curtain separates these areas, so the border between the front stage and the backstage is clearly depicted.
For instance, if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you see very clearly a similar line of demarcation. As a waiter, out in the dining room, you are all smiles. Whenever the customer asks for something, you reply politely with a “Yes, ma’am” or “Right away, sir.” Back in the kitchen, however, you might complain loudly to the rest of the staff, criticizing your customer’s awful taste for ordering escargot with his cheeseburger (Conley, 2013). For people in certain professions, the front stage/backstage distinction is more literal. In the news we sometimes hear about celebrities who have been caught saying something inappropriate because they thought the camera or microphone was off—they believed they were comfortably backstage.

Individuals with master status such as a celebrity or politician have the greater portion of their daily lives on the front stage. They are always under close inspection, so they are always expected to perform their role. In other situations, the lines between front stage and backstage become more blurred. Has a professor ever caught you while you were talking with friends about his/her class? You might have thought that you were backstage when joking with your friends in the student union, but the unfortunate, unexpected appearance of your professor turned the situation into a front-stage experience.

The looking-glass self is a social psychological idea, created by Charles Horton
Cooley in 1902, states that a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal relations and the observation of others. The term mentions to people shaping themselves based on other people’s opinion, which leads people to reinforce other people’s viewpoints on themselves. People shape themselves based on what other people see and confirm other people’s opinion on themselves. Thus, it explored how identity is formed (Kincaid, 2017).

According to Goffman, the mind’s mental ability is a direct result of human social contact. Starting as children, humans begin to define themselves within the context of their own socializations. The child learns that the symbol of his/her crying will provoke a response from his/her parents. Interactions with others must exist because it helps in the development and shaping of a behaviour. People gain their identity and form their habits by looking at themselves through the perception of society and other people they interact with. This concept of self, created by others, is unique to human beings. It begins at an early age and continues throughout the entire lifespan of a person.

There are three steps of the looking glass self: to begin, people picture their appearance of themselves, traits and personalities, they then use the reactions of others to interpret how others visualize them and finally, they develop their own self-concept, based on their interpretations. Their self -concept can be enhanced or diminished by their conclusions. This concept was developed after sociological testing of children. They were told to enter a room and take only one piece of candy. The children unaware of being watched took as much candy as they could. The experiment was then repeated, but this time the room was lined with mirrors so the children could see themselves. This time the children took only one piece of candy. In Cooley’s interpretation, the children, by observing their own behaviour in mirrors modified themselves out of guilt (Franks, 1992).
With the fact that we create our performances we are basically saying that presentation of our self is just a lie. We are changing our behaviour to an extent that none of our actual identity is superficial, it is all just a made identity, the person we want other to see us as. We spend so long backstage trying our best to give off a certain impression to others that our actual self is outshined by our created self. The fact that we aren’t being ourselves suggests that no one is a true individual, just someone who has modified their behaviour to obey to certain social expectations.

It has been argued that dramaturgy should only be applied in instances that involve people associated with a total institution. The theory was designed for total institutions and some believe that theories should not be applied where they have not been tested. It has also said that dramaturgy does not contribute to sociology’s goal of understanding the legitimacy of society.
Goffman’s idea does not account for the encounters an individual may have with subsets of their main audience where in the individual assumes a partial ”face” of the character or role normally played. This idea of fractional identities is a reality in daily life but is not covered in Goffman’s writing. The criticism that most individuals have a fluid concept of self that is constantly changing or is necessarily distinct from their authentic self because certain identities are assumed solely for a specific purpose or finite period of time.
While the dramaturgy described by structuralism and hermeneutic analysts is a social device that is probably always utilized in fake social formations, it is not true that it is always utilized in real social formations. In not understanding this distinction, pre-critical dramaturgy has not only mystified the variability of social relations, it has overlooked some very exciting uses of dramaturgy, for example, the dramaturgy of undistorted communications or of authentic social performances. A final specific criticism of dramaturgical analysis is its unconcern with a systematic explanation of how dramaturgy could amplify the human condition.
There are doubts over its validity as a research method. It can be argued that using a metaphor means any ”resulting analysis cannot be disproved” and may therefore have little scientific use and also the metaphors are criticizing only ”partial descriptions of social behaviour”. Goffman’s use of metaphor to outline his dramaturgical model may result in the validity of his entire theory being questioned. Lastly, this article explores the moral critique of
Goffman’s writing, which points out that not striving to live up to an authentic self is a morally inferior approach to life.
Goffman’s theory on the Presentation of self in everyday life had an immediate and significant effect upon his generations research and discourse. Not only were hidden theories and analyse broadly, his objective, non-judgmental writing style was highly acclaimed. It had a substantial impact on the fields of sociology and psychology, and can be applied to contemporary societies when theorizing social roles and relations. His works left a great contribution in sociology and explaining the interaction of individuals as much as giving the light highlight on how an individual characterizes in the crowd. Therefore, Goffmans part in sociological field of work is developed to use as basis in emerging the society in most attractive way.


Conley, D. (2013). You may ask yourself; NY, Cataloging-in publication.
Franks, D. D. (1992). Autonomy and conformity in Cooley’s self-theory. The looking glass and beyond. Symbolic interaction (15),49-68
Hogan, B. (2010). The presentation of self in the age of social media: distinguishing performances and exhibitions online. SAGE publication. Retrieved from Kincaid, J. (2017). You are not yourself and you never have been. Retrieved from Research starters. (2018). Dramaturgical analysis. Retrieved from

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