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Latest update: October 20, 2000
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Erving Goffman and the Role of Dramaturgy
in Linking Agency and Structural Context.

Review and Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Teaching Theory Series
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, September 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

Erving Goffman and the Role of Dramaturgy in Linking Agency and Structural Context. As always, I'm going to take liberties in these brief summaries. You must read the actual works if you're going to go on to graduate school. But at least I'll be sure you have a flavor.

Goffman watched, and he listened in good faith. I think those are the primary characteristics we need in sociologists. We can't just think about these concepts because real people are not living their "lived realities" in our heads. Only by coming to know that lived reality can we begin to bridge the interdependent agencies of individuals and of the structural context.

In Presentation of Self in Everyday Life Goffman used the metaphor of the stage. He described the role we play when others are watching as "front stage" behavior, and the role we play within shared moments of privacy as "back stage" behavior. T.R. Young says this means that Goffman has bridged modern to postmodern theory:

"Goffman, Gouldner and Garfinkel constituted, together, a rich underlife in American sociology which should be sustained and carefully considered...that, in my opinion, Goffman was talking about a social process coming to birth while Durkheim, Mead, Cooley were talking about the kinds of social forms in the past or found only in the safe and responsive world of the middle class academic. We now see these sociologists as pre-cursors and collateral embodiments of postmodern sensibility."
I suggest that you read T.R. Young's lecture on the Work of Erving Goffman.

  • The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
    Online. Adam Bernhart's essay on.
    "The process of establishing social identity, then, becomes closely allied to the concept of the "front," which is described as "that part of the individual's performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance" (22). The front acts as the a vehicle of standardization, allowing for others to understand the individual on the basis of projected character traits that have normative meanings. As a "collective representation," the front establishes proper "setting," "appearance," and "manner" for the social role assumed by the actor, uniting interactive behavior with the personal front (27). The actor, in order to present a compelling front, is forced to both fill the duties of the social role and communicate the activities and characteristics of the role to other people in a consistent manner. "

  • Celebrating Erving Goffman
    by Eliot Feidson, 1983. Online.
    "what I want to do is to make some comments about what I see in his work in and of itself. I shall address myself to his early work: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Asylums, and Stigma. And I want to make three points. First, Goffman's early work is focused on the individual self, in a world that at once creates and oppresses it. Second, Goffman's work is intensely moral in character, marked by a passionate defense of the self against society. And third, Goffman's work has no systematic relationship to abstract academic theory and provides no encouragement to attempts to advance such theory. What gives Goffman's work a value that will endure far longer than most sociology is its intense individual humanity and its style. "

  • The Presentation of Self in WWW Home Pages
    An interesting application of dramaturgical analysis to presentation of self on web pages.

  • The Presentation of Self in Electronic Life
    by Hugh Miller, 1995. Online.
    Goffman (1956,1973) has described how people negotiate and validate identities in face- to-face encounters and how people establish 'frames' within which to evaluate the meaning of encounters. These ideas have been influential in how sociologists and psychologists see person-to-person encounters. Kendon (1988) gives a useful summary of Goffman's views on social interaction.

    Electronic communication (EC) has established a new range of frames of interaction with a developing etiquette. Although apparently more limited and less rich than interactions in which the participants are physically present, it also provides new problems and new opportunities in the presentation of self. There have been exciting discussions about the possible nature of 'electronic selves' (for instance Stone, 1991). This paper is a basic exploration of how the presentation of self is actually taking place in a technically limited, but rapidly spreading, aspect of EC: personal homepages on the World Wide Web. "

  • Transparency: Media Criticism "uses the ideas of Goffman and others to reveal the way news stories contain hidden forms of social interaction."