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All of us like to present ourselves to others as someone who is likable and successful. In this lesson, we discuss the concept of dramaturgical analysis as proposed by Erving Goffman. We also talk about the practice of idealization and how nonverbal communication can sometimes sabotage our presentation efforts.

Dramaturgy

‘All the world’s a stage.’ Have you ever heard this quote from one of William Shakespeare’s plays? It’s part of a speech that draws parallels between actors in a play, and the way we perform for others in real life.

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A sociologist named Erving Goffman made the same comparison in his theory about dramaturgical analysis, which is the study of human social interaction in terms of theatrical performance. According to Goffman, sociologists are like directors, observing and analyzing what happens on the stage of life. Every social status that humans have is like a part in a play, and the role associated with that status serves as our script, giving us direction as to how to behave and what to say on stage.Typically, we care about how the ‘audience’ reacts and how they’ll judge our performance. So, we have parts that we volunteer for and different methods of presenting ourselves. In other words, we try to create a certain impression by presenting ‘the self’ to others the way we want to be seen.

We try hard not to slip out of character and reveal how we would really act ‘behind the scenes.’ Let’s look closer at this concept, known as impression management, as well as idealization and how nonverbal communication can sometimes sabotage our efforts.

Impression Management

Impression management can be defined as the attempt to control the impressions and opinions that other people have of one’s self.

For example, a woman ‘cast’ in the part of job seeker tries hard to influence her impression on potential employers. First, she tries to influence their opinion through a resume by wording her experience just so and then tries to control their impressions through an interview by ‘dressing for success’ and answering questions correctly.Of course, impression management isn’t just confined to more formal situations such as job interviews. It actually happens all the time as we attempt to control how others see us as in a variety of roles, including parent, spouse, employee, church member, athlete and many more.

As we play each part, we vary our performance depending on the expectations of others. For instance, you probably act differently at a funeral than you would at a 21st birthday party!

Idealization

Of course, the reason that impression management is so important is because we want others to think well of us. Therefore, we practice idealization, which is the exaggeration of our positive qualities. It is our attempt to present the best possible version of ourselves and convince others that our actions and intentions are not selfish.

Just think of the typical view of politicians as an example. They put the best possible spin on their actions and try to make everything appear to be for the good of their constituents.Of course, it’s not just politicians. Idealization also involves attempting to conceal our negative feelings and the secrets that others wouldn’t approve of. Most (if not all) of us tend to smile and act friendly towards people we don’t like because it’s polite, and we do not want to seem like a rude or unlikeable character.

Nonverbal Communication

Interestingly, we can portray certain characters even without words. Nonverbal communication is the use of anything other than words to communicate something.

It includes what we think of as body language – facial expressions, postures, gestures, eye contact and so on – and other things such as tone of voice and even appearance.Although nonverbal communication can help us portray a character correctly, it can also betray us. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that ‘actions speak louder than words.

‘ If someone says, ‘I love you’ with a disgusted look on his or her face, would you believe that person? Probably not. Sometimes, we read our script and verbally communicate correctly, but unintentionally allow nonverbal communication to portray a different message – avoiding eye contact while lying is a good example.

Lesson Summary

In summary, dramaturgical analysis is the study of human social interaction in terms of theatrical performance. You can think of sociologists as directors, observing and analyzing what happens on the stage of life. Every social status that humans have is like a part in a play, and the role associated with that status serves as our script.

Typically, we care about how the ‘audience’ reacts and how they’ll judge our performance. Impression management is the attempt to control the impressions and opinions that other people have of one’s self. It happens all the time as we attempt to control how others see us. As we play each of our parts, we vary our performance depending on the expectations of others.

Of course, the reason that impression management is so important is because we want others to think well of us. Therefore, we practice idealization, which is the exaggeration of our positive qualities. However, sometimes nonverbal communication, which is the use of anything other than words to communicate something, can portray how we really feel.

Learning Outcomes

Following your completion of this video lesson, you should understand the idea of dramaturgical analysis as a way humans interact with each other. Additionally, you might know more about the use of impression management, idealization and nonverbal communication.

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