Presentation of Self

Topic: Self Presentation And Interacting With Others

During interactions with others, humans modify their behavior to affect their self-presentation or how they are perceived.

As you can imagine, people employ many types of behaviors in day-to-day life. Roles are patterns of behavior that we recognize in each other, and that are representative of a person’s social status. Currently, while reading this text, you are playing the role of a student. However, you also play other roles in your life, such as “daughter,” “neighbor,” or “employee.” These various roles are each associated with a different status. One person can be associated with a multitude of roles and statuses. Even a single status such as “student” has a complex role-set, or array of roles, attached to it.

Of course, it is impossible to look inside a person’s head and study what role they are playing. All we can observe is outward behavior or role performance. Role performance is how a person expresses his or her role. Sociologist Erving Goffman presented the idea that a person is like an actor on a stage. Calling his theory dramaturgy, Goffman believed that we use impression management to present ourselves to others as we hope to be perceived. Each situation is a new scene, and individuals perform different roles depending on who is present. Think about the way you behave around your coworkers versus the way you behave around your grandparents or with a blind date. Even if you’re not consciously trying to alter your personality, your grandparents, coworkers, and date probably see different sides of you.

In the theater metaphor, a person has both a front stage and back stage self for various social situations. The front stage self encompasses the behavior a player (person) performs in front of an audience (usually society, or some subset of society). A person performs her front stage self when she knows she is being watched and that her behaviors is subject to judgment by an audience. She carries out behavioral conventions that are meaningful to the audience in an attempt to give them a certain perception of her behavior. The backstage self, by contrast, is employed when players are together, but no audience is present. The backstage is still a region of performance, but the players can let go of conventions necessary for the front stage self. Players perform a different self for each other than they do for the audience. Performance of the back stage self can include behavior that would be unacceptable when performed in front of the audience.

Impression management is a critical component of symbolic interactionism. For example, a judge in a courtroom has many “props” to create an impression of fairness, gravity, and control—like her robe and gavel. Those entering the courtroom are expected to adhere to the scene being set. Just imagine the “impression” that can be made by how a person dresses. This is the reason that attorneys frequently select the hairstyle and apparel for witnesses and defendants in courtroom proceedings.


Practice Questions


Khan Academy

MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Online Flashcards Question 19


Key Points

• Roles are patterns of behavior that we recognize in each other, and that are representative of a person’s social status. One person can be associated with a multitude of roles and statuses.

• Role performance is how a person expresses his or her role.

• Sociologist Erving Goffman presented the idea that a person is like an actor on a stage. Calling his theory dramaturgy, Goffman believed that we use impression management to present ourselves to others as we hope to be perceived.

• In the theater metaphor, a person has both a front stage and back stage self for various social situations. The front stage self encompasses the behavior a player (person) performs in front of an audience (usually society, or some subset of society). The backstage self, by contrast, is employed when players are together, but no audience is present.


Key Terms

dramatugry: a technique sociologists use in which they view society through the metaphor of theatrical performance

impression management: the process of consciously making behavioral choices in order to create a specific impression in the minds of others

roles: patterns of behavior that are representative of a person’s social status

role-set: an array of roles attached to a particular status

role performance: the expression of a role

status: the responsibilities and benefits that a person experiences according to their rank and role in society

front stage self: the behavior a player performs in front of an audience

backstage self: when players are together, but no audience is present



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