Have you ever been at a party or hanging out with a group of friends and noticed that someone you were talking to had food on their face, their fly unzipped, or even worse, a strange object coming out of their nose? If there were a number of people present, did you tell the person directly, or wait until there was less of a crowd around so as not to embarrass your friend? Or even worse, did you not say anything at all?
According to Erving Goffman, most of our interactions in large groups are similar to theatrical performances. In the case mentioned above, Goffman would most likely say that when we ignore the person’s mistake, we are practicingtactful blindness. In other words, we pretend we did not see the mistake even though we did. Sometimes, we might take the person aside and tell them in private because we know they would not like their error to be pointed out in front of a crowd.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
William Shakespeare (excerpt from the play “As You Like It”)
Goffman’s approach to understanding interaction rituals is referred to as Dramaturgical Analysis. This method or approach assumes that when we interact, we are like actors on a stage. In other words, interactions are like theatrical performances. There is usually an actor and an audience involved, and we use certain stage props or cues to manage our impression on others. Usually, the props we use are verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. Goffman also pointed out that we have a front stage where we are in front of the audience and a back stage where interactions are less formal and the audience is not present. In the example above, the back stage would have been when you saw the person with food on their face in the bathroom and admitted the blunder to them.