Erving Goffman and his Dramaturgical Sociology.
Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, published in 1959, provides a detailed description and analysis of process and meaning in mundane interaction. Goffman, as a product of theChicago School, writes from a symbolic interactionist perspective, emphasizing a qualitative analysis of the component parts of the interactive process. Through a microsociological analysis and focus on unconventional subject matter, Goffman explores the details of individual identity, group relations, the impact of environment, and the movement and interactive meaning of information. His perspective, though limited in scope, provides new insight into the nature of social interaction and the psychology of the individual. Goffman employs a "dramaturgical approach" in his study, concerning himself with the mode of presentation employed by the actor and its meaning in the broader social context: "The perspective employed in this report in that of the theatrical performance, the principles derived are dramaturgical ones." (Goffman 1990, 13) Interaction is viewed as a "performance", shaped by environment and audience, constructed to provide others with "impressions" that are consonant with the desired goals of the actor. The performance exists regardless of the mental state of the individual, as persona is often imputed to the individual in spite of his or her lack of faith in - or even ignorance of - the performance. Goffman uses the example of the doctor who is forced to give a placebo to a patient, fully aware of its impotence, as a result of the desire of the patient for more extensive treatment. In this way, the individual develops identity or persona as a function of interaction with others, through an exchange of information that allows for more specific definitions of identity and behaviour. 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". (Goffman 22) The front acts as 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 behaviour with the personal front. (Goffman 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. This process, known as "dramatic realization" (Goffman 30), is predicated upon the activities of "impression management", the control (or lack of control) and communication of information through the performance. (Goffman 208) In constructing a front, information about the actor is given off through a variety of communicative sources, all of which must be controlled to effectively convince the audience of the appropriateness of behaviour and consonance with the role assumed. Believability, as a result, is constructed in terms of verbal signification, which is used by th 313h71d e actor to establish intent, and non-verbal signification, which is used by th 313h71d e audience to verify the honesty of statements made by the individual. Attempts are made to present an "idealized" version of the front, more consistent with the norms, mores, and laws of society than the behaviour of the actor when not before an audience. (Goffman 35) Information dealing with aberrant behaviour and belief is concealed from the audience in a process of "mystification", making prominent those characteristics that are socially sanctioned, legitimating both the social role of the individual and the framework to which the role belongs....
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