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Sociology : Dramaturgical Analysis of Social Interaction

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Set and Stage for a T.V. Show
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Dramaturgical Analysis

 

            The world is a stage and we are all actors in a play called “Life.” This theory of how we as people live can be explained through a type of theory called dramaturgical analysis. Dramaturgical analysis is a theory first developed by a man named Erving Goffman and sociologists have used this theory of social interaction to try and explain why we do what we do by means of comparing us to actors in a theatrical presentation.  As we all know, major productions have a lot going on internally and externally, just like our lives but in this case productions come with: actors, directors, producers, main characters, back-up characters, roles for and played by actors, costumes, props, scripts, front stages, and back stages. The dramaturgical approach makes us realize how when we act, we worry about our “audience” and how they will judge our performance to see if we will slip up and show how we really act “behind the scenes,” if you will. In this website I will describe each of these terms and how they are used in context for dramaturgical analysis.

            It is easy to see that most productions like movies, television shows, and even plays have an overall theme and point to it; if they did not come along with said things it would be meaningless nonsense with no relevance or point to it, just like our lives. Most of us have goals in life and have so called “expectations” that we have and use a tool called “impression management” to achieve them. This is where the “acting” part comes into play; most of us will perform and act the way we think will work best for our expectations in a given situation. Be it at work, school, in front of friends or family, we are all putting on presentations of ourselves that can be best fitting for that particular environment – in short we all act differently for each and every situation we are in.

Picture of Characters on hit T.V. show "Seinfeld"
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Roles

            Roles in dramaturgical analysis can be defined and interpreted as the set behaviors and actions actors are subject to carry out for whatever situation or setting we are placed in. Roles are like our statuses, for example people can be: mothers, fathers, sons, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, students, workers, doctors, police officers, waiters, or even preachers. These examples will not apply to everyone, but everyone has at least one of those listed roles that he/she plays a part in. Our roles in life are always a part of us, but for many situations in life some of those “statuses” can be overlooked and not apparent while we are acting for different roles other than those.  For example, the fact that a person maybe a doctor at a hospital, while they are working or “acting” for their role as a doctor they do not always show that they are the nephew/niece of their aunt Rita who is a sister to their mother Mary. Their role of “doctor” is a very intense and one-tracked state of mind display of acting and its only qualification is to be able to always help the patients.

Directors and Producers

            Every good production has a good Producer and Director behind the scenes telling the actors what to do and how to do it. While most of the acting and roles we have and participate in can be up to us to decide if we want to take them on seriously, “directors and producers” hold an overall executive power in making sure we as actors are fulfilling our so-called “requirements” effectively. In life in general, our directors and producers we have can be considered to be whatever our faith tells us it is; God, Buddha, Yahweh, Allah, and any other Faith’s Gods can be regarded as the director and producer for the play we consider our life to be. They give us tasks and purpose with set goals and ideals that we need to carry out regularly as faithful people. In the workplace, directors and producers are the people who run the company. They are the entrepreneurs, presidents, vice presidents, chief executive officers, and board members who carry out the tasks of getting all the employees (Actors) below them to carry out the business plan in an effective nature. Though sometimes these directors and producers can be apparent in the actual “play,” we will see them and watch them first hand participating in the acting and carrying out of the roles. The same thing in school, as students the teachers, principals, professors, deans, counselors, and maybe even the knowledge we gain serve as our directors and producers – each of them guide us for success in the role we choose to participate in.

Main Characters

            Main characters in productions are all of the people (mainly us - from an insider’s point of view) that are apparent all the time and bring something to the table for the “show.” They have the lead role and their job is to effectively carry whatever comes along with it our. For example, if you are a student in the class room, the teacher is the main character. The focus is on them because they are instructing you and giving important information that is necessary for class. In business, let’s say you are a sales person - to all the customers, you are the main character. People pay attention and watch and listen to what you say because the information you are giving is very valuable to them no matter what the situation is.

Back-Up Characters

            Just like we already know, back-up characters are the filler in a theatrical presentation. They act as individuals who are just “there.” No real input is given from them, at least not very often. Let’s go back to the school example. If a teacher is the main character for the class, speaking and discussing the criteria the whole time, the students can be regarded as the back-up characters, just filling in spaces in the classroom. If you were to put a video camera in a classroom to observe how it is conducted, you would notice very little input from the students because usually class is held as a “one-man show.” In the workplace, customers and clients are the back-up characters; they are the ones being catered to that pretty much do their own thing that does not involve any type of activity the main characters (you) do. Back-up characters are important though, no matter how minor their role is. They provide the necessary filler and potential for more interaction to take place in a set, at least more than what would be present if only main characters were in the production all of the time.

Picture of Main Characters in T.V. Show "Scrubs"
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Costumes

            Costumes are very necessary when regarding life’s interactions to a theatrical presentation. What is a character without a costume? – Nonexistent. The way we dress and what we wear are regarded as costumes when using a dramaturgical analysis because our attire is highly influenced on different situations. Examples of this include: Business Suits, Doctor’s Lab Coats, Police Uniforms, and Parochial School Uniforms. If you are having an interview for a job that you want, most people will not go into it wearing everyday jeans and a t-shirt. We dress to impress, we put on our best costume and play the role of an actor trying to get a job that they themselves think they are qualified for; during the interview most people will speak quite differently from their usual demeanor, using a well-rounded vocabulary and little if any curse words or profanity. Costumes set the actors aside from one another. Costumes are what are most apparent and obvious for first impressions and can show much of the internal thought processes of individuals regardless of the situation. For example, students at a university may regularly go to class dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt for comfort. This particular outfit or “costume” when analyzed would most likely show that the student does not really care about their appearance while attending class rather that they actually appeared in class for learning only.

Props

            Props, or “Theatrical Property”, are a big part of a production; they are mainly used as tools for actors to use and abuse while playing their roles. Props can be large or small, but no matter what they are key points in keeping the “story” alive. For example, if we were to look at a play in a classroom or school and use dramaturgical analysis we would see the props as: desks, chairs, paper, pencils, pens, books, notebooks, computers, televisions, whiteboards, and chalkboards. All of those items are used by the students and faculty (actors) on a regular basis that form and make-up the entire presentation of school. In the business place, like a retail store, we would see props as: cash registers, products, “Sale” signs, and anything else that is a concrete item used when engaging in the interactions held at a store; all these little things make-up a very important part of a production and life itself.

Scripts

            Scripts are documented verbal replies and statements that actors say while acting. While most of our conversations in life are not premeditated, rather improvised, people that are engaging in conversation have a pretty good idea of what they want to say and how they want the verbal exchange to go overall. A few literal examples of scripts are when: the person working the drive-through at McDonalds says “Hi! Welcome to McDonalds. May I take your order?” or when a receptionist at any company in the world follows this format “Thank you for calling (company name), this is (their name), how may I direct your call?” We have all heard those before and we know that those statements are the format or “script” those individuals saying them are supposed to follow. In the classroom, a teacher’s script can be regarded as the curriculum being taught, the information spoken about, and possibly the course syllabus with an outline of the class and what will be learned. However, like we discussed earlier, these are snot the only ways to interpret a script. The easiest way to think of a script is to just understand it is what we are saying when we play the part of the actor in a situation that we choose; in other words we say what we are supposed to say in order to achieve the desired goal of the conversation and/or role.

Front Stages and Back Stages

            Front stages are defined in dramaturgical analysis as the place where we, as actors, play our part. Back stages are any of the other places besides the place where we act that our audience does not see us. In school and in class, as actors we sit and pay attention, listen, and ask questions on the material – this is our front stage behavior. Back stage for school, like when we go home, we sit or lay on the couch, turn on the television and think no more about our school studies. In work, we put on our nice faces and happy attitudes and for the most part act kindly towards our co-workers and customers while we are “on front stage,” but once we get home to our “back stage,” it is open season with the bad mouthing on how much you hate your boss and co-workers and how you would have really liked to slap that rude customer today.

The reason we act so very differently while on our front stages and back stages is very same reason we are considered to be actors and we can use the method of dramaturgical analysis in the first place. When we are on front stage, putting our acting skills to the test and trying to show our audience how well we can present ourselves. Our reputation and credibility relies on how well our performance is. We are acting for an audience, and our audience wants to see us mess up and show how we really are, but a good actor will always take on their character to the best of their ability. We go deep into making ourselves believe that how we are acting is how we really are all the time. Often with this we will engage in face-saving behavior. We want to keep things at a constant state of stability, and we will go to extremes to do so, especially when something is embarrassing - this is what face saving behavior is. Examples of face-saving behavior are: when we ignore flaws and mistakes other “actors” make, when we make excuses for mistakes we have made, and when we make excuses for other people’s mistakes. 

All these different aspects of acting and theatrical presentations can be very closely and easily compared to everything in our lives. The terms are very self evident, but are very useful and have taught people that how we act in life is never constant; no matter what, how we socialize is always affected by where we are, who we are with, and when we are there. We are all actors and the world is a stage, I hope that most of us are good enough to eligible for the Academy Award; I think most of us would be. I hope this site has helped you with the understanding of this topic, If not, some more sites about this subject can be found on the bottom of this page.

Thanks for stopping by!

The Theatre District in New York City
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Broadway and Times Square

World Famous "Hollywood" Sign
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Movie Capital of the World

Questia - Online Book of Dramaturgical Analysis

WikiPedia - Dramaturgical Analysis

Erving Goffman's Take

Sociology PowerPoint On-Line

Nelson Education - Dramaturgical Analysis