Dramaturgical Analysis of University College Utrecht
“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, his acts being seven ages.” – William Shakespeare, As You Like
Life at UCU and general student life is often said to be like a drama or soap opera. Many people put on performances every day to show off to other students or to impress their teachers. Goffman turns this generally held belief into a sociological theory he calls Dramaturgical analysis- a view of social life as a series of dramatic performances akin to those performed on the stage (Ritzer, 2011).. Goffman says that every individual consists of two parts, the I and the me. The difference between the two is what others expect us to do and what we want to do spontaneously. There is conflict between these two parts of the individual and so to create a stable self-image every actor ‘performs’ in front of each different social audience. They perform in order to satisfy people’s expectation of them. Goffman likened this to a performance on the stage where the front stage was the “I” (as it is where the act of the I is performed) and the back stage is the “me”.
This essay will look at daily life on UCU campus, specifically the reality of what I have seen and I will describe it using Goffmans theory. It will examine the many different roles that I and others play in different situations in the College and also the various different roles that people take.
Front Stage – Bravado and Group Behaviour
University College Utrecht is the front stage for which all the people who step foot onto campus are able to perform on. Everyone on it is likely to perform in a certain way based on the audience watching. If people are going to perform (or put on a bravado to hide their true selves) then they obviously need a stage to do it on. Overall in this analysis the setting is University College Utrecht campus, however I have observed people acting differently in the bar i.e. acting like a party animal, to how they perform in the class i.e. being an intellectual. This shows that within the big front stage of campus there are lots of smaller stages; classrooms, the bar, individual units, dining hall etc.
However it is likely that the above person cannot be both someone who can go to the bar every night and chug a pitcher of beer and someone who is able to answer all the questions in class, there isn’t enough time in the day. Hence these two acts are not able to co-exist within the same personality. Therefore this person has multiple fronts, as Goffman suggests, and puts on a different performance depending on what stage they are on, a party or the classroom. A particular example is when my friend hooked up with a girl at the bar and then told us that they actually like her a lot and wanted her to be more than just a fling. He then acted very differently depending whether she was in the audience or not. Around us he would act very besotted with this girl but when he was near her he acted like he didn’t even know she existed. The fact he liked her was a secret. Goffman talks about different kinds of secrets in his theory and this one about my friend’s feelings for this girl is known as a deep secret, one that produces team (the other performers on the front stage) bonding by the secret being shared with them. It helps to bond the team as our friendship group realises that the boy trusts us with this secret. For instance when he told us we got very excited and would often meet up to talk about how their relationship was going. I realised that he obviously trusted me greatly as a friend in order to tell me something so personal to him and even better I got to discuss it with all my friends to. The fact we could all be trusted with this must mean that we are a good group of friends.
Other kind of secrets exist too that are more detrimental to a group if found out. For example often in class people haven’t done the reading but they want to act as if they have. This happens often and I can tell as they try to answer more questions in class but as they haven’t read the text they often get them wrong. These two types of secrets serve different purposes. A deep secret’s aim is bonding and so does not have to be that dark such as when someone tells me they really liked visiting England over the break because I am from there. It helps to bring me and the other person together as it shows we have a common interest of England and makes us feel different from other teams who don’t know anything about England. However this deep secret doesn’t matter that much if others find out he enjoyed England too. The dark secret, on the other hand, needs to be kept secret and, what’s more, the secret that there is a secret also needs to be quiet. For if the teacher found out that the class had not done the readings he may punish them or think badly of them, which could affect their grades. Yet dark secrets do make good deep secrets and often work better at bonding the team when this is the case. Hence this fact may be emphasized such as when saying “Don’t tell anyone else but…”.
What people wear often makes it easy to tell what role they are performing at the time, such as it was obvious who was playing the role of fraternity baby when all Primus babies were made to wear flowery shirts which told everyone they we’re currently under initiation. Also when I see someone at the bar chug a whole beer I know they are a party animal. Actions or as Goffman says manners also can tell you what role people are playing. These two things make it much easier for the audience to determine the actor’s social position and also make it less likely for the actor to be found out if their back stage is not the same as their front.
Back Stage – The True Person
When I am by myself or when no one is expecting anything from me this is my backstage. It is where facts suppressed in the front may appear. I am most likely to show my back stage in my own room in the unit as there is no audience, hence I would not have to perform for them. So here I can be myself and actually do work without having to put on my social party-goer role. I can show here that I actually care more about my grades then what I may show to other people. As at UC it’s cool to not do you work and go out instead.
However the back stage is not all that simple, as one person’s back stage can be the front stage for a different audience. Hence I use impression management to make sure my dark secret about caring for grades doesn’t get out. This means that I don’t leave my books open on my desk when I’m not reading them. This helps prevent unexpected action such as someone coming into my room and asking to borrow something.
Roles – Different Characters
Every day at UCU I can see people fulfilling very different roles and if I know someone’s secret I can see others try to gain access to them and people trying to hide them. Goffman said this too saying there are many roles being played in order to combat the fact that actors have secrets. For this section of the essay I will discuss each role and relate it to a situation/social role at UCU.
Informer or Spy
I have not experienced this but I can guess that it goes on. A guy may go out with a girl just because she is hot and easy in bed. However he may not care much for the relationship, hence he goes and tells his friends about all the dirty things she does. The boy has gained the girls trust by being in a relationship with her, yet really he isn’t that committed to it and tells all his friends her back stage secrets. This role is someone who gains the trust of the performers, goes backstage and then discloses information on the performance.
I have encountered this role when I’ve heard people about to give a presentation. The presenter asked their friend to ask a particular question during the discussion section of her presentation. So this meant that in the classroom session the presenter was the performer and the rest of the class, including the girls she asked, was the audience. The Shill is someone who pretends to be a member of the audience, but is a member of the performing team. They manipulate the audience’s reaction. So the person who asks the question is actually part of the performance and her goal was to manipulate the class, especially, the psychology teacher. They wanted the audience to believe that the presenter had prepared really well for the presentation and questions. The teacher would then think that the presenter is really intelligent and hopefully give her a higher mark. He would believe her font.
On Sinterklaas the Dean asked for silly stories of students from this term so that he could embarrass them in dining hall e.g. Equities getting stuck in the Kromhout tower lift for hours. So anyone who told the Dean one of these stories was a spotter. They overheard the performance of Equities, analysed it and thought it was stupid, so then then told the rest of the audience i.e. the Dean. He also then proceeded to tell the even wider audience, everyone in dining hall at lunch that day.
Though I am not sure, and obvious go-between would be my tutor. She has the permission of both sides (me and my course teachers) to act as a mediating facility between us, such as when talking about our performance in class. She must learn a lot of secrets and this is evident in the fact that I am not allowed to directly read my teachers comment about me. Hence we will not learn what we specifically think about each other. This role facilitates interactions between teams (me and my teacher).
There are a few non-persons on campus. They generally consist of any person in the background from the perspective of the performers. Such as the bar staff who can overhear conversations happening at the bar, the dining hall staff who can also listen in and watch the students during meal times and also perspective students visiting the campus who observe the students going about their daily lives (however the last may not see completely back stage as students may put on a better than normal performance in order to get the perspective student to chooses UCU).
The people the landlord sends to fix the showers and lights in the unit are obvious service specialists. They are people who are invited backstage (the unit), because of their specialist skills (plumbing, electrician).
Most people on campus are colleagues to me as we are all part of the same team, students, or on a smaller scale, class mates. However they are not necessarily members of the team in question, which in this case would be my friendship group within the student population. They are part of the team as you would let them know some secrets that you would not let the wider audience hear, such as you have not done any of the homework for that class. Yet you would probably not tell them your dark secrets like you might your friends.
Confidants of mine are my parents and also my close friends as these are people whom I (the performer) reveal details about my performance. As telling someone about the performance is risky as they might then tell the audience about the performance this means the confidant has to be someone I can fully trust. Hence this is why they are my parents as they live in England and so are unlikely to be able to talk to anyone at UCU and my close friends who I should be able to trust. For instance I may disclose to them that I am terribly stressed about exams and life after university whereas to others I would put on a performance that I was care free.
The Shadow Person- The Person Over Your Shoulder
This type of person fits into Goffman’s theory as they mean that no one is ever truly backstage. The shadow person is the psychological phenomena that describes the belief that someone is always watching you. The people we can see out of the corner of our eye. The reason it means that no one is ever truly back stage is because if you feel someone is always watching you then you always have an audience and hence you are likely to always perform. For instance I often realise I am laughing at things that I do not find particularly funny, but I am around others so I want to show them that I also think the funny thing is funny like they do. As they expect me to find it funny. However when I am by myself I also laugh out loud. However no one is there to see me laugh so really there is no point as I already know if I think something is funny or not. The reason for this might be as I feel there is someone watching me, the shadow person, and I have to show them that I think it is funny.
UCU is a very complex social society, yet with use of Goffman’s theory on the presentation of the self in everyday life a lot of this confusion can be explained. People are often performing to hide secrets from others and to live up to people’s expectation. Hence people can have many fronts and also participate in many roles to help cover up and also learn other people’s secrets.
Ritzer, G. (2011). Sociological Theory. Boston: McGraw Hill p. 124.