The presentation of self in everyday life

What does Goffman mean when he says that life can be looked at “as if it were theater?”

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listen to this all the way through; and you might get the idea!  ::


So I got me a pen and a paper, and I made up my own little sign. I said, "Thank you Lord, for thinkin' about me, I'm alive and doin' fine."


The Prime Minister of one country in Asia, drove his car one day on the beach,, he was dressing his private (Pijama). Unfortunately, the car broke down, the people came for help. Their reaction was a little strange because they used to see the PM in his formal dress. So it’s a matter of perception as well as a matter of two behaviors presenting one person in two situations, one in private performance (behind the theater –without an audience) and one on the theater – with audience).


The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life  was “published in 1959, provides a detailed description and analysis of process and meaning in mundane interaction. Goffman, as a product of the Chicago School, writes from a symbolic integrationist perspective, emphasizing a qualitative analysis of the component parts of the interactive process. Through a micro sociological analysis and focus on unconventional subject matter, Goffman explores the details of individual identity, group relations, the impact of environment, and the movement and interactive meaning of information. His perspective, though limited in scope, provides new insight into the nature of social interaction and the psychology of the individual.” (1)


As I understand the concept from Symbolic interaction point of view in sociology, which next to the main MACRO theories in sociology: The Functional Structure Theory and Conflict Theory, Symbolic Interaction Theory is a  MICRO  analysis. The first two deal with large groups and societies while the theory of this question deals with interaction of individuals.


In his opinion, Goffman notes that a person has two sides of personality may be described as formal and informal personalities, where the person can act and interact in two different ways. One (formal behavior) following the rules of a play on theater, where the actor has be formal according to the lines of the act. The other is informal where persons in the back stage my drink, eat and converse as they want (freely without formality-such act like stretching their bodies as they wish).


Goffman’s approach is sometimes called “dramaturgical approach”. According to his study, interaction is viewed as a "performance," shaped by environment and audience, constructed to provide others with "impressions" that are consonant with the desired goals of the actor. Therefore, the actor –no matter what was his/her feeling, has nothing to do with his act (Like someone lost his son or father the day before). In other words, on theater “the performance exists regardless of the mental state of the individual, as persona is often imputed to the individual in spite of his or her lack of faith in -- or even ignorance of -- the performance”


When the actor, in order to present a compelling front, (showing the others-audience) is forced to both fill the duties of the social role and communicate the activities and characteristics of the role to other people in a consistent manner. (formal). This process, was termed by Goffman  as  "dramatic realization" as predicated upon the activities of "impression management," the control (or lack of control) and communication of information through the performance.


Furthermore, two personal pictures of team members in performing a play, one overt (for the audience) the other is covert (with no audience, say the play training) where no control on the behavior of the actors. By studying these picture, Goffman in fact explored  the nature of group dynamics through a discussion of "teams" and the relationship between performance and audience.


In conclusion “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life provides penetrating insight into the nature of interpersonal interaction and the institutions to which interaction more strongly applies.” Goffman's work displays an uncommon analytical rigor in dealing with a comparatively unexplored area of social thought.




(1)   Adam Barnhart at


For more on the topic see: Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Doubleday: Garden City, New York, 1959.


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the presentation of self is very important life should be looked as a challenge and not a theatre

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