As a theorist, Erving Goffman focuses on
dramaturgy, which is the basis of his 1959 work, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” Dramaturgy, as described
by Goffman and his theory, is the general idea that we as individuals navigate
our lives in relation to how others see us, as if we are all performers on a
stage. His theory of dramaturgy consists of five key concepts – self,
impression management, definition of the situation, front and backstage.

Goffman addresses the self as a general
idea of who one is, based on individual presentation in any given scene, or
situation. Impression management consists of the conscious and unconscious
efforts one uses to influence how others perceive them. This is accomplished by
regulating and controlling information while interacting with others in an
attempt to manipulate the impression one has on others. Definition of the
situation is the basis of how individuals understand the social context in
which they are performing, providing expectations of how to behave and how
others will behave. The front is the aspect of one’s performance that provides
situational context to those who would be considered part of the audience. This
front stage behavior is essentially how one acts while being watched or
observed in a public setting, such as work or school. Goffman splits this
concept into two separate parts – the setting and the personal front. The
setting is made up of props and scenery, which consist of objects one uses to
decorate or frame the situation in order to influence others’ perceptions. The
personal front involves identifying characteristics that make it possible for a
person to appear before others in a certain way. Some examples of these
characteristics include age, sex, race, speech, facial expressions, clothing,
etc. Individuals often alter certain aspects of their front in order to suit
the situation and the audience. Backstage, in contrast to the front, is the
performance one reserves for situations in which they can let their guard down
and be themself. This aspect of the performance frees individuals from the
expectations and norms that shape everyday behavior when performing on the
front stage (Appelrouth and Edles, 2016).

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This dramaturgy exemplified in Goffman’s
theory can be applied to my everyday life by analyzing each central concept
discussed above. The self, as discussed by Goffman, is who I am in any scene I
am presented. Impression management is evident in what I say in certain
contexts versus others, such as how I present myself in class or at sorority
events or at home with my family. I do not really speak much in any classes,
and when I do, I make sure I present myself in a way that is acceptable for
that setting. When at sorority events, I am more open and outgoing because I am
surrounded by strong women whom I feel more comfortable around. At home with my
family, I can be myself more, but there are still certain aspects of my college
life I refrain from mentioning for varying reasons. Impression management is
how I present myself in these different settings as a way of influencing
others’ impressions of myself. This is affected by the definition of the
situation, or the way in which I can know what is expected of myself as well as
others. For example, classroom behavior is essentially understood without any
students needing to be taught not to speak out of turn or disrupt the class.

My front, as defined by Goffman, is how I
intentionally present myself in order for others to define the situation. The
“expressive equipment” employed in my personal front as well as the setting of
my interactions heavily impact how others view me as well as the situation at
hand. Except for very certain situations (i.e. front of a classroom for a
presentation), the setting I typically conduct myself in does not consist of
many props. However, unless I am in an important and specific setting such as a
babysitting job, I am typically smoking a cigarette and a lot of people
identify me with that single prop. As for my personal front, my choice of
clothes varies depending on setting as well. If I have a meeting with a
professor, a presentation to give in class, or a sorority event, I tend to
dress more formal than when I go to class or simply hang out with friends. Some
aspects of my personal front that I cannot manipulate based on the setting are
my sex, my age, my speech patterns, and my facial expressions – or at least my
resting facial expression. Many people form opinions rather quickly based on
the facts that I am female, I am young (most people I encounter assume I am
younger than I am), I have a slightly southern accent (this comes off as a sign
of unintelligence to a lot of people, even in professional settings), and I
have what is known as a ‘resting bitch face.’ These are all part of how I
present myself and how others perceive me, and while it is not possible to
entirely change these parts of myself, I can alter them in small ways in order
to affect how others see me.

These defining features of my ‘front’
contrast with my ‘backstage’ behavior, or what I do and how I act when others
are not around to observe. For example, I wear makeup and a bra and pants when
I leave this backstage setting, all of which I avoid while I am in my home or
other very comfortable settings where I can be myself. I do not have to alter
any aspects of my appearance or how I present myself when I am backstage,
allowing me to feel more relaxed.

Dramaturgy and the central concepts
defined in Goffman’s The Presentation of
Self in Everyday Life are relevant and applicable to the lives of
individuals even after over sixty years have passed since its publishing. By
understanding these concepts and recognizing their presence in everyday life,
individuals can learn to control things such as impression management and front
stage behavior, which can improve everyday interactions as well as a general
knowledge of others’ behaviors.