Robert A. Harsh

Goffman Recitation

Goffman's Dramaturgical Perspective

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

[emphasis added]

• The Dramaturgical Perspective •

"...many sources of information become accessible and many  carriers (or 'sign-vehicles') become available for conveying...information" (1).

"Knowing that the individual is likely to present himself in a light that is favorable to him, the others may divide what they witness into two parts; a part that is relatively easy for the individual to manipulate at will, being chiefly his verbal assertions, and a part in regard to which he seems to have little concern or control, being chiefly derived from the expressions he gives off" [compare "congruence" among thoughts, feelings, actions] (7).

• social interaction depends on a deeper "surface of agreement" or "veneer of consensus"–avoiding conflict requires a "working consensus" that creates "lines of responsive action" (9-10)

• moral dimensions of dramaturgical interaction–"Society is organized on the principle that any individual who possesses certain social characteristics has a moral right to expect that others will value and treat him in an appropriate way. Connected with this principle is a second, namely that an individual who implicitly or explicitly signifies that he has certain social characteristics ought in fact to be what he claims he is" [compare integrity of values and actions] (13).

• Performances •

"A 'performance' may be defined as all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants" (15).

"If we take the term 'setting' to refer to the scenic parts of expressive equipment, one may take the term 'personal front' to refer to the other items of  expressive equipment, the items we most intimately identify with the performer himself and that we naturally expect will follow the performer wherever he goes" (24).

• appearance–"...those stimuli which function at the time to tell us of the performer's social statuses."

• manner–"...those stimuli which function at the time to warn us of the  interaction role the performer will play in the oncoming situation" (24).

• Mead's "generalized other" acted out in Goffman's "socialized performance" "...when the individual presents himself before others, his performance will tend to incorporate and exemplify the officially accredited values of the society, more so, in fact, than does his behavior as a whole" (35).

• social control as it functions in "discrepancies" in performance:

performance conceals "secret pleasures and economies"

–"...errors and mistakes are often corrected before the performance takes place..."

–self is "finished, polished, and packaged" before it is presented

–performance conceals Hughes's "dirty work" behind the scene

"discrepancy between appearance and actual activity"–"Often we find that if the principal ideal aims of an organization are to be achieved, then it will be necessary at times to by-pass momentarily other ideals of the organization, while maintaining the  impression [impression management] that these other ideals are still in force" (43-45).

• roles played before audience are presented as unique and special to that audience and an actor has "as many different social selves as there are distinct   groups of persons about whose opinions he cares" [compare Mead's role-making and role-taking)](48-50).

"The expressive coherence that is required in performances points out a crucial discrepancy between our all-too-human selves and our  socialized selves. ..."As characters put on for an audience...we must not be subject to ups and downs" (56).

"Perhaps most important of all, we must note that a  false impression maintained by an individual in any one of his routines may be a threat to the whole  relationship or role of which the routine is only one part" (64).

• note summary of performance characteristics in first paragraph on page 65

quoting Durkheim on page 69: "The human personality is a sacred thing ; one does not violate it nor infringe its bounds, while at the same time the greatest good is in communion with others."

• impression management–"What does seem to be required of the individual is that he learn  enough pieces of expression to be able to 'fill in' and manage, more or less, any part that he is likely to be given" (73).

"To be a given kind of person, then, is not merely to possess the required attributes, but also to sustain the standards of conduct and appearance that one's social grouping attaches thereto" (75).

• Teams and Team Performances •

"I will use the term 'performance team' or, in short, 'team' to refer to any set of  individuals who co-operate in staging a single routine" (79).

"When a performer guides his private activity in accordance with incorporated moral standards, he may associate these standards with a reference group of some kind, thus creating a non-present audience for his activity" [compare Mead's "generalized other"] (81).

"A teammate is someone whose dramaturgical co-operation one is dependent upon in fostering a given definition of the situation...." (83)

"The obvious point must be stated that if the team is to sustain the impression that it is fostering, then there must be some assurance that no individual will be allowed to join both team and audience." (93)

"In general, those who participate in the activity that occurs in a social establishment become members of a team when they co-operate together to present their activity in a particular light." (102)

"Since we all participate on teams we must all carry within ourselves something of  the sweet guilt of conspirators." (105)

• Performance Regions •

"Given a particular performance as a point of reference, it will sometimes be convenient to use the term 'front region' to refer to the place where the performance is given." (107)

"A back region or backstage may be defined as a place, relative to the given performance, where the impression fostered by  the performance is knowingly contradicted as a matter of course." [audience not present] (112)

"Performers can stop  giving expressions but cannot stop giving them off." (108)

• "make-work" creates the impression of useful, responsible endeavor (109-110)

"One of the most interesting times to observe  impression management is the moment when a performer leaves the back region and enters the place where the audience is to be found, or when he returns therefrom, for at these moments one can detect  a wonderful putting on and taking off of character." (121)

"I would like to emphasize the fact that activity in a concrete situation is always  a compromise between the formal and informal styles." (129)

"Thus the higher one's place in the  status pyramid, the smaller the number of persons with whom one can be familiar, the less time one spends backstage, and the more likely it is that one will be required to be polite and decorous." (133)

"When audience segregation fails and an outsider happens upon a performance that was not meant for him, difficult problems in impression management arise." (139)

• Discrepant Roles •

"A basic problem for many performances, then, is that of  information control; the audience must not acquire destructive information about the situation that is being defined for them. In other words, a team must be able to keep its secrets and have its secrets kept." [also note types of secrets in this context] (141)

• types of discrepant roles:




–knocker and wiseguy

–go-between or mediator

–the non-person (ex. servant)

–service specialist



–colleague (145-166)

"We must include a marginal type of 'weak' audience whose members are not in face-to-face contact with one another during a performance, but who come eventually to pool their responses to the performance they have independently seen." [compare "secondary groups"] (166)

• Stage Talk/Communicating Out of Character/Elements of Staging •

"...customers who are treated respectfully during the  performance are often ridiculed, gossiped about, caricatured, cursed, and criticized when the performers are  backstage." (170)

types of "communication out of character":

–staging talk (gossip, "stage talk")

–team collusion: "...any collusive communication which is carefully conveyed in such a way as to cause no threat to the illusion that is being fostered for the audience." (177)

–staging cues

–use of a foreign language

–a "vocabulary of gestures" (175-190)

"...the more consciously these cues are learned and employed, the easier it will be for the members of a team to conceal even from themselves that they do in fact function as a team. ...even to its members, a team may be a secret society." (184)

"...double talk regularly occurs in intimate domestic and work situations, as a safe means of making and refusing requests and commands that could not be openly made or openly refused without altering the relationship." (195)

"...we find that occasions arise when opposing teams, be they industrial, marital, or national, seem ready not only to tell their secrets to the same specialist but also to perform this disclosure in the enemy's presence." (205)

"...treatment of the absent; staging talk; team collusion; and realigning actions. Each of these four types of conduct directs attention to the same point: the performance given by a team is not a spontaneous, immediate response to the situation, absorbing all of the team's energies and constituting their sole social reality; the performance is something the team members can stand back from,  back far enough to imagine or play out simultaneously other kinds of performance attesting to other realities. Whether the performers feel their official offering is the 'realest' reality or not, they will give surreptitious expression to multiple versions of reality, each version tending to be incompatible with the others." (207)

• Additional Elements of Impression Management •

• defensive attributes and practices

–dramaturgical loyalty

–dramaturgical discipline

–dramaturgical circumspection: "Circumspection on the part of the performers will also be expressed in the way they handle relaxation of appearances." (226)

• protective practices

"The members of the audience may discover  a fundamental democracy that is usually well hidden. Whether the character that is being presented is sober or carefree, of high station or low, the individual who performs the character will be seen for what he largely is, a solitary player involved in a harried concern for his production. Behind many masks and many characters, each performer tends to wear a single look, a naked unsocialized look, a look of concentration, a look of one who is privately engaged in a difficult, treacherous task." (235)

• The Dramaturgical Perspective in Social and Cultural Contexts •

" The structural and dramaturgical perspectives seem to interact most clearly in regard to social distance. ...The cultural and dramaturgical perspectives intersect most clearly in regard to the maintenance of moral standards. The cultural values of an establishment will determine in detail how the participants are to feel about many matters and at the same time establish a framework of appearances that must be maintained, whether or not there is feeling behind the appearances." (241-242)

• personality and performance–"...we often find that  the individual may deeply involve his ego in his identification with a particular part, establishment, and group, and in his self-conception as someone who does not disrupt social interaction or let down the social units which depend upon that interaction. When a disruption occurs, then, we find that the self-conceptions around which his personality has been built may become discredited. These are consequences that disruption may have from the point of view of individual personality." (243)

"The individual tends to treat the others present on the basis of the impression they give now about the past and the future. It is here that communicative acts are translated into moral ones. The impressions that the others give tend to have a moral character. ...Since the sources of impression used by the observing individual involve a multitude of standards pertaining to politeness and decorum, pertaining both to social intercourse and task-performance, we can appreciate afresh how  daily life is enmeshed in moral lines of discrimination." (249-250)

"...the very obligation and profitability of appearing always in a steady moral light, of being a socialized character, forces one to be the sort of person who is  practiced in the ways of the stage." (251)


"In this report, the individual was divided by implication into two basic parts: he was viewed as a performer [compare Mead's "me"], a harried fabricator of impressions involved in the all-too-human task of staging a performance; he was viewed as a  character [compare Mead's "I"], a figure, typically a fine one, whose spirit, strength, and other sterling qualities the performance was designed to evoke. The attributes of a performer and the attributes of a character are of a different order,  quite basically so, yet both sets have their meaning in terms of the show that must go on." (252)

"In our society the character one performs and one's self are somewhat equated, and this self-as-character is usually seen as something housed within the body of the possessor, especially the upper parts thereof, being a nodule, somehow, in  the psychobiology of personality. ...While this image is entertained concerning the individual, so that a self is imputed to him, this self does not derive from its possessor, but from the whole scene of his action, being generated by that attribute of local events which renders them interpretable to witnesses. A correctly staged and performed scene leads the audience to impute a self to a performed character, but this imputation–this self–is a product of a scene that comes off, and is not a cause of it. The self, then, as a performed character, is not an organic thing that has a specific location, whose fundamental fate is to be born, to mature, and to die; it is a dramatic effect arising diffusely from a scene that is presented, and the characteristic issue, the crucial concern, is whether it will be credited or discredited." (252-253)

"Those who conduct face to face interaction on a theater's stage must meet the key requirement of real situations; they must expressively sustain a definition of the situation: but this they do in circumstances that have facilitated their developing an apt terminology for the interactional tasks that all of us share." (255)