What Is the Erving Goffman’s Theory (Dramaturgy)?

Dramaturgy theory is a social perspective that focuses on symbolic interactionism’s components used to analyze everyday life’s sociological events. Dramaturgy theory was developed by American sociologist Erving Goffman which explains the three interaction classifications, the front stage, backstage, and off stage. 

The dramaturgy theory was considered extreme and radical initially as it differed from the previous approaches. Most sociology theories chose one side over the other, but this theory focused on reconciling different sides.

The dramaturgy theory has helped in understanding the social interaction in society by presenting the individual self in their everyday life. Specifically, the approach focuses on the idea that humans are social creatures and represent themselves using face work.  Understanding this facework could help to understand society at large.

The Front Stage

Ideally, someone is said to be in the front state when acting consciously. In this regard, the person is aware of what is happening while on stage and conscious of other people’s behavior. For instance, complex performances such as role-playing are front-stage performances. A person must be aware of the new character, especially in public performances.

The Backstage

A person is regarded backstage when in a situation behind the screen. Backstage allows the individuals to have a sense of relief because there’s no one observing them. For instance, people taking off their costumes after a play are considered backstage following their performance in front of an audience. Additionally, living a private life is also considered backstage.

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The Offstage

In this situation, a person is unaware that other people are observing them and unconscious of being watched. As a result, the person is unaware of their tone, words, or facial expressions.

In most cases, a person in this state is likely to shift to the front stage once they have realized that somebody is watching them. For instance, a person singing in a bathroom without being aware that other people are listening to them is offstage.

Dramaturgy Theory Elements

Erving identified five elements of this theory including setting, manner, performance, appearance, and front.


The setting is the location in which a person is performing. It is mainly used to showcase the performance to a receptive audience. In this case, the setting can be naturalistic or abstract..


This element identifies how a person represents themselves and the effect it has on themselves and others. According to Erving, manner consists of all aspects visible to others, including firmness, walking speed, gestures, and voice. 

In most cases, people Conduct themselves in a given manner and control the effects it has on others. This control also defines how we appear to ourselves. Having dual control may allow others to quickly take over conduct as they know what it takes to make themselves appealing and vice versa.


This dramaturgy element consists of the Impressions in which a person represents themselves to the audience. Erving states that appearance is an individual’s self-image which explains what another person sees and shapes their vision.

Ideally, there are two different sets of people. First, primary participants know the backstage reality. This set of people creates a dual-level interaction. Second, the secondary participants do not know the backstage reality and are unaware of the dual relationship.

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Erving believes that the front and stage and backstage are interactive. This mutual relationship influences each other’s front-stage performance and their backside reality.


The front is the biased view of the social life which people project and maintain. It is the image a person deliberately presents to the audience. In this case, the front is what a person wants others to see and the part they want to be seen. In most cases, the front and backstage reality can be the same except in a few instances.


A person’s performance comprises their mannerisms, facial expressions, and gestures. It is an element that a person wants to project to others. This theory argues that people mainly project themselves as they want to be rather than as they are. Therefore, adjusting the environment helps match the new self, creating a good performance. 

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Dramaturgy Theory and Symbolic Interactionism

 Kaufman suggests that understanding the composition of society is the only way to understand society. Ideally, society is an action-oriented place where people interact through signs and symbols.

Nonetheless, human beings are mainly composed of two elements: the mind and the body. The mind helps to develop new ideas and thoughts, while the body is the outside sign people use to communicate with others.

In this case, the dramaturgical theory argues that people can have different interactions that can take place on stage backstage and in a private setting. Additionally, symbols and signs during this performance make the acts more effective. Therefore these theories can help to understand human beings and society at large.

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What instance can illustrate dramaturgy theory?

  • Performance in a job interview- A person is expected to put on their best behavior and present their best image during interviews. In this case, having a good impression during an interview increases your chances of securing the job.

How is the dramaturgy theory limited?

  • The theory tends to neglect the idea that people are only sometimes performing for others and are not aware of what they’re playing about.
  • The theory is limited to the idea that human beings are acting rather than being themselves. 

What is dramaturgy?

 It is the art and technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation. 

What are the two types of dramaturgy?

 The two types of dramaturgy include new play dramaturgy and production dramaturgy.

 What is the mean concept in dramaturgy theory?

Erving Goffman proposes dramaturgy as an aspect that involves the metaphor of theatre to explain human behavior. In this case, it helps to understand human beings’ performance in their everyday life as if they were on a stage. 

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