What is Goffman’s dramaturgical theory ( Impression Management)?

Dramaturgical perspective was introduced in sociology in 1959 by Erving Goffman in his book ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’. Erving Goffman studied the interactions that take place in society at the micro-level. He took this perspective from theatre, he uses theatre as a metaphor to represent how people behave in society and represent themselves. He uses the metaphor, in this metaphor the people are the actors and the society is a stage, the individuals interact with one another, as the actor’s exchange dialogue, they are being directed by the norms and values that the follow as the members of society.

As they have to stick to the direction, the actors constantly engage in what is called ‘Impression Management’, this is when people try to control the impression that others have of them. They have certain goals in mind according to which they will behave. The behavior presented in such a case is the one that will be acceptable by the one to whom we want to give an impression. E.g. when we go for an interview, we will put on formal clothes and we are likely to be at our best behavior.

This brings us to the concept of a front stage self and a backstage self. These are the two ways in which we present ourselves in society.

The front stage self is the self that we are likely to show to the world. This is the self that we present when we go out of our familiar setting, when we interact with people we are not yet comfortable with, these are people we do not know. This is where our impression management comes into play, we usually tend to put out behaviors that will be easily accepted by the people of the society, e.g. when we may meet our friend’s parents for the first time, it is likely that we would wish for them to think of us as ‘good company’ for their children, so we may not abuse or talk in the same tone that we talk to our friends in, we may not drink or smoke. Similarly, when we start working we may want to create a good first impression among our colleagues and our superiors, thus we may act accordingly, by eagerly doing any work that may be given to us and not procrastinate.

On the other hand, the backstage self refers to that aspect of self which we really are, this the self we are in the environment in which we are comfortable. Here we are accepted, people know us for who we are and there is no need for any kind of impression building. E.g. when we are with our friends we behave in a more relaxed manner, we may be comfortable using language that may otherwise be considered abusive. We are off stage, unobserved and thus more relaxed. The stage thus becomes a metaphor where we act in ways that fulfill our need to be accepted in society.




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