It is possible to analyze our interaction with others as if it were a playas if social life was a succession of masquerades. We call social dramaturgy the microsociological approach centered on the study of what it has to do with human behavior and the rules that control our daily interactions.
"Life is a theatrical performance." Socrates debated, in dialogue Feast, that the theatrical genre – comedy or tragedy – was the closest to real life (he bet on tragedy). However, the preceding sentence is not his and his argument does not follow the same path: its author is Erving Goffman, creator of the current of symbolic interactionism, which argues that, in every social interaction in which we engage, we try (consciously or unconsciously) to project a concrete image of ourselves, manipulating the way others perceive us.
For Goffman, our personality is not an internal phenomenon, but the sum of the different "masks" that we wear throughout our lives : a social dramaturgy.
The main objective of theatrical and social actors is to maintain congruence in their interaction with those around them. To convey a positive impression, we must have dramatic (social) skills and the necessary costumes and accessories. But all this is irrelevant if the actors present on stage can not agree on the "definition of the situation", on the expectations and the limits of the interpretation which implicitly indicate us how to fit in a certain context (social environment).
To move in this social dramaturgy – that is to know how to move between the scene (the moments when we project an image for others) and the backstage (our private life, which is sometimes also a mask that we put ourselves in front of ourselves), as well as the ease of moving from one place to another, and having an appropriate wardrobe at all times – are essential conditions to succeed socially: during the show, the one who does not know how to act is a danger for them. actors and ends up being left out.
And, by acting, our comments and expressions of surprise, approval, irony or displeasure shape the view that others have of us we are aware of it and therefore we manage our speech, we weigh our actions and monitor our reactions. We all act at all times, and we define our roles according to the environment in which we operate, seeking to integrate.
This adaptation to the role, this definition in front of others, is something that happens every moment, every interaction. Like actors in a series, we can start the pilot episode (a job, a relationship, our first year in college) with a character who is unclear, or at least open to a change of approach once that we hear the reaction of the public. Therefore, we dedicate our lives to adapt to the character, at least until they suspend this series and we have to throw this mask (we are fired a job, we divorce, we get a diploma, etc. .).
Image, concealment and morality
For Goffman, in this social dramaturgy, we try to present an idealized image every time we act, for the simple reason that we are convinced that it can be beneficial to hide parts of ourselves:
- We hide the process of preparing our role. Like the teacher who, after having prepared a lesson for hours, recites it by claiming to know it all his life, we prefer to offer to others only the "final result" of our performance. No need to project false plans or repeat the scenario several times until you memorize it; it's all happening behind the scenes.
- We have hidden the dirty work done to get the role. Our character may be incompatible with everything we did to "honor" the producers who gave it to us. Think of a politician who becomes a candidate who sells honesty … after making his way to the top of the island.
- We hide what would prevent us from continuing to act. We remain silent about our affronts and avoid reacting to humiliations that may affect the image we have chosen to offer.
As Ervin Goffman himself says: "As actors, individuals are anxious to maintain the impression that they follow many rules that can be applied to them to judge them, but an individual, as actor, is not concerned with the moral problem of complying with these rules, but with the amoral problem of making a convincing impression of the fact that he respects them. Our activity is based mainly on morality but, despite this reality, as actors, we are not interested in it.. As actors, we are merchants of morality. "What do you say?