Dramaturgical Analysis Paper

Dramaturgical Analysis


The development of dramaturgical analysis emanates from symbolic interactionism, and Erving Goffman adapted the word in sociology, in the Presentation of Self in Everyday life book. Dramaturgical sociology states that human actions depend on time, audience and place. The dramaturgical perspective is the one of the perspectives through which we make an analysis of social interactions, and it seeks to explain and analyze the context of human behavior. .

This is a perspective that relates to the analysis of life. The central principle in this analysis is the concepts that relate to drama (Dougan, n.d.). This means that life is a stage in which performers play. The performers in this case are the people and public performance that people make produces meaning. Public here is the actions carried out in front of people or something that stresses other people. This means that most acts are public in nature and the production of meaning happens only in action.

Dramaturgical analysis is usually applied in explicating public performances, for instance, organizational rituals; however it is also useful in understanding of relatively private performances like undertaking parental roles. In addition, dramaturgical analysis may focuse on the display as well as on what makes the display (Feldman, 1995).

In dramaturgical analysis all human interactions are so much analogous to a grand play (Kivisto & Pittman, 2007). Thus, the individual interactions that occur amongst people determine the human experience.


In dramaturgical analysis several authors have developed theories that explain the perspective. Among the developers the analysts develop an approach to analyze the society from the dramaturgical point of view. One of the first people to give the meaning of dramaturgical analysis was Erving Goffman. He gave this theory of social interaction its first meaning through which other sociologists have developed an advanced analysis. This theory tries to explain why people do certain things by comparing us with actors and players in a theatrical presentation. The principal productions have a lot of internal and external issues related to individuals in their day-to-day life. The approach makes people realize how they tend to worry about the “audience” and how the audience will judge the performance when we act.

Other developers of the concept include Hugh Duncan, Don Nimmo, Alvin Gouldner, Ivan Chapman among others. The developers describe the day-to-day social dramas and enable us to understand how individuals aim at meeting their socio-psychological desires (Welsh & Young, 1998). The individuals form the key figures in dramaturgy to be used in the interpretations of human interactions.

The major contributor of the dramaturgical analysis approach is Erving Goffman, and most theories on dramaturgy tend to revolve around his work. His key contribution is the theoretical principles of dramaturgical and frame analysis. Goffman used the stage and the theater in the presentation of the dramaturgical analysis. The theory postulated by Goffman indicates that individuals portray the performers involved in divergent shows that target diverse audiences (Sitton, 1998). Under dramaturgical analysis Goffman shows that if members of diverse audiences interact, the performer may find it hard to distinguish the audiences. This will also affect how the individual manages the individual self that he/she wishes to portray to the audiences. Thus, individuals in this case will tend to keep the front stage and back stage and prevent people in the front stage from intruding into those in the back stage (Sitton, 1998).

Under frame analysis Goffman offers an exposition of the definition of a situation. The definition of a situation remains anchored on an elementary framework that does not rely on prior interpretation of facts. The frames in this case are the natural frames that individuals do not have control over. This also includes social frames that constitute the standards set within a society through which human beings function. Thus, the primary frame is the physical world and the social presence of people in it (Sitton, 1998).

Alvin Gouldner (1970) (cited by Welsh & Young, 1998) offered a critical review of Goffman’s work in the Coming Crisis of the Western Society. The view he gave was that Goffman’s views on a dramaturgical analysis were a rebellion which excluded the comprehension of social reality (Welsh & Young, 1998). In addition, Gouldner was worried about dramaturgy in the sense that it reduced humans to sheer commodities. Thus, dramaturgy was a technology of rebellion. In addition, Ivan Chapman (1974) (also cited by Welsh & Young, 1998) also critiques the dramaturgical analysis made by Goffman. He offered a different view on symbolic management and emphasized on good faith and reciprocity.

Key Concepts of the Perspective

Dramaturgical analysis in the works of Goffman has several key concepts that it tries to explain. In his work, Goffman explicates the reaction of self to societal regulation via the concepts that relate to focused and unfocused interactions. In this case, the concept of focused interactions occurs when the individual is willing to set eyes on a single focus of visual and cognitive attention (Goffman, 1861). For instance, Goffman explains that once an individual gets unselfconsciously attached to something, it may end up being real for the individual. On the other hand, unrestrained associations are interpersonal communications that result from the virtues of individuals in the time he/she is the presence of another individual. In this case, individuals gasp, or swear when they stumble on a sidewalk because they are indicating that they regard the situation as a clumsy accident, but not as an involuntary physiological response (Sitton, 1998).

The focused and unfocused interactions occur in encounters, which are social arrangements taking place when people are in the immediate presence of other individuals (Goffman, 1961). Thus, an encounter may be a face-to-face communication or a group interaction. In most cases, the group interactions have one critical attribute: the participants’ continuous engagement in the formal focus of the activity (Goffman, 1961). In addition, the encounters are the elemental foundations of perspectives, and they also form the basis of the definition of a situation (Sitton, 1998).

This means that, in any encounter, individuals employ a multitude of techniques that are responsible for self-portrayal in respect to the response to the societal cues. The methods and concepts that Goffman puts forward include sign vehicles, dramatic realization, fronts, maintenance of expressive control, idealizations, misrepresentation, reality and contrivance, and mystification (Sitton, 1998).

Under sign vehicles, individuals often give and unintentionally give off signs. This is the information that participants can use to conclude how to interact with an individual. For instance, when a highway patrol officer stops an individual that is speeding, he will watch various signs that the driver gives off as they discuss the incident. In addition, the officer will look for other unintentional signs that the driver gives off, like slurred speech, dilated pupils, and irritated mannerisms that form the basic indicators that may make it possible to detain the driver (Sitton, 1998).

Another key concept from Goffman is the use of fronts by individuals to define the situations for their involvement in an ad-hoc interaction or in a performance. The front in this case includes the use of items of expressive equipment, physical settings, and individuals’ manner and appearance. Thus, individuals must make careful choices from a set of predefined and finite fronts, or the individual may face the consequences that emanate from a front that is inappropriate (that can insult the observers) or a front that is costly (in terms of used energy). Thus, as individuals focus on presenting a compelling front, they must embody their social role in consistently projected manner (Sitton, 1998). In most cases, when an actor takes an already established social role, he finds that there is a front set for that very social role. This means that individuals have to select fronts and not to create them. The individual must adhere to the pressures on him/her and find a predefined front (Goffman, 1961).

Fronts tend to be in the form of a face and regional behavior. In this case, the individuals face front shows the identity that they endeavor to achieve in social settings. Thus, individuals must take a stand during social interactions in order to maintain that face. For example, people often communicate and act in certain ways that indicate their understanding of a situation and the corresponding interactants (Sitton, 1998). If an individual loses that face, then his/her self-image may become tarnished. However, an individuals’ desired face can develop under the guise of spontaneity. This is the one that allows the true self to surface that individuals take at face value. Under regions, the front comes in terms of the physical setting and the regions bound by perception barriers. The region behavior is a vital tool that aids the manipulation of the public’s perception of reality. This is how people manage insincerity. Thus, as actors take a role, they take a position with regard to their belief in that role (Kivisto & Pittman, 2007).

Dramatic realization is another concept under dramaturgical analysis. For instance, individuals often display salience, use gestures in order to highlight unapparent and obscure facts, and link prominent actions with less striking actions so as to emerge as an extraordinary one. This is the act by which individuals make things that are less conspicuous to become more remarkable.

Idealization in dramaturgical analysis shows how individuals present themselves in those roles that incorporate accepted societal values. The accepted acts are those that present expressive reaffirmation and rejuvenation of a community’s moral values. As individuals adhere to the societal conventions, they may conceal indiscretions of many inappropriate pleasures coupled with side profits. In this case, the individual develops an alternative reality that obliges other people to view the final product. This is in comparison with displaying the evidence of what they deem as dirty work that forms the basis of doing a job (Sitton, 1998). The individuals also strive to maintain expressive control in the sense that they carefully control their gestures. In this case, the observer may interpret such wandering actions as signs of insincerity and ineptitude.

Misrepresentation is another key concept in the sense that it enables individuals to present honest and consistent fronts. This aims at developing and achieving a sincere and honest perception for themselves. The individuals must express themselves in ways that cannot make the observers feel deceived in their interaction (Sitton, 1998). In addition, mystification explains why individuals attempt to hide their flaws as they avoid the areas in which such flaws are noticeable. Thus, impression management tends to conceal those unflattering aspects in an individual’s life. Individuals will aim at rendering themselves as closer or even further from their observers than in the actual sense.

When explaining the concept of reality and contrivance, individuals tend to portray themselves as truthful and sincere. The observer may take this for granted. Nevertheless, individuals may contrive the presentations to indicate nonexistent realities and thereby present lies and fabrications in order to augment that image that they want to portray. Thus, individuals will tend to show the elements of the self as they respond to the societal cues and this will go in dictating the definition of a situation. As people try to adjust the disconcerting junctures in their life, they may employ two key devices: flooding out or integration. Under integration, an individual will blend out with any embarrassing moment with other encounters without distorting the definition of a given situation (Goffman, 1961). On the other hand, an individual will flood out if he/she cannot sustain a given situation (Sitton, 1998).

The logic behind dramaturgical analysis is the essence offering explanations that can explain how human interactions occur. Thus, the dramaturgical theories tend to explain the making of personal identity and how interaction with others develops this identity. In addition, this perspective is separate from other sociological perspectives in the sense that it offers an explanation of the context of human behavior. Moreover, the rationale in this case is the explanation of backstage and front stage behavior. This is how individuals will act under different situations. This also goes to explain how individuals create and develop impressions in the minds of other people (Macionis & Gerber, 2011).

Social Phenomenon Explained by Dramaturgical Analysis

Dramaturgical analysis enables us to understand the nature of the social processes for ancient and modern societies. For instance, impression management constitutes one of the tools that can manipulate the publics’ perception of reality. Kivisto & Pittman (2007) note that Goffman has a large interest on the problems that emanate from living life like a play. This is how the problems affect and individual’s psychological state and behavior. Some of the examples that the approach can explain include the views that individuals place on others. This includes the general view that people have on flight attendants as being only women (Kivisto & Pittman, 2007). Another example is the one that people have with regard to insurance agents. These are individuals that the society expects to show sincerity in how they handle their business.

Influence of Dramaturgical Analysis

The influence of dramaturgical analysis cannot be understated. It has given the foundation and the basis upon which modern theories explain human interactions. They provided the basic structural characteristics and the formal features of the day-to-day interactions of a dramaturgical society. In addition, dramaturgy provided and elaborated the mechanisms through which people and groups create and maintain the belief of social order under the theater framework (Welsh & Young, 1998).

The perspective of dramaturgy may also form the basis actors and organizations may construct a fraudulent or a repressive social reality. The influence of dramaturgical analysis has waned over the past decade for having gone beyond the use of theater as the life’s point of reference. The works of Goffman have an influence on dramaturgical analysis.

The influence of dramaturgical analysis in the modern society is its use in the depiction of how social movements will communicate power. For instance, Benford & Hunt (1992) argue that it is possible to describe social movements as dramas. This is the case in which the protagonist and antagonist compete so as to influence and affect the interpretations of the audiences with regard to power relations within a mixture of domains. Thus, the people that seek power are in the front stages where they aim at captivating the attention of others. The competition for power is the modern influence from dramaturgical analysis.

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