Are We Just Actors on a Stage
Is our identity fixed or does it change depending on the circumstances?
In contrast to structural conflict theories (top-down approach — society influences the individual) such as feminism and Marxism, which believe that patriarchy and capitalism affect the way that people act, social action theory (bottom-up approach — individual influences the society) states that we construct the society by attaching meaning to interactions and behavior.
Introduced by Erving Goffman in his book ‘The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life’ (1959). He uses the theatre analogy to understand society and people. He states that society is a ‘stage’ and people are ‘actors’. Therefore, depending on the situation, individuals change their behavior and personality in order to fit in. Our lives and the way we present ourselves resembles performing on a stage because people want to control the way that they are seen.
For example, we act differently with teachers or managers/directors than we do with our friends and family.
People create specific impressions of themselves by acting out their ‘role’. We choose what role we want to play depending on what our end goal is. This is how we ensure that we act in a socially appropriate way.
For example, in order to get a job, you have to look professional and put together in the interview and wear smart, formal clothes.
However, there are three different ways we present ourselves in the society:
- Frontstage Self
This is what we show to the audience (a social setting) when we perform the role that we have created. We adapt our behavior in order to fit in with people that we just met or are not yet comfortable with.
People have to act in multiple front stages with different roles and scripts. For each social situation, people carefully think through how they are going to act, what qualities they are going to present, and even what tone of voice they are going to use.
- Backstage Self