Dramaturgical Analysis and Societal Critique

No. 071

Dramaturgical Analysis and Societal Critique.


John Welsh

Pittsburgh State University




Distributed as part of the TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.


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Dramaturgical Analysis and Societal Critique                 

This essay intends to uncover, add, create and clarify intellectual 
dimensions within dramaturgical sociology for the purpose of laying
a  foundation for a social critique of the dramaturgical society
and, ultimately,  suggesting a practice for confronting its
exploitative social relations.  The  essential defining
characteristic of the dramaturgical society is organizations controlled 
by class and political elites utilize  the technologies of behavioral science, 
mass communication, marketing,  advertising and the theater. With these
techologies, state and business elites manage consciousness and 
behavior of the  population for the purposes of maximizing profit and  
political control (Young and Massey, 1977).
 Dramaturgy, as an analytical tool, enables us to understand the nature and 
social processes of both ancient and modern  societies in which elitist
hierarchies control both behavior and consciousness of those at the lower
levels of hierarchy.  However, understanding is only one of many uses to 
which dramaturgical analysis has been and can be put.   There is an authentic
emancipatory dramaturgy which both enlightens and politicizes those
for whom it is available.   Young (1991) has offered some emancipatory uses
of such dramaturgy.
In this essay, we want to examine the efforts of several analysts who approach
society from a dramaturgical frame of reference.   These includes Erving
Goffman, Hugh Duncan, Alvin Gouldner, Don Nimmo,  Ivan Chapman and others.
This history, we have found,  reveals that on balance, the interest has been 
primarily to describe everyday social life as drama and to understand how 
individuals attempt to meet their social-psychological needs under such conditions. 
In describing the dramaturgical society and understanding the everyday
life of the individuals within it, dramaturgical analysts have
discovered an array of exploitative and dehumanizing processes and
behaviors.   To some extent, these demystifying and enlightening efforts
have been helpful to emanicipatory knowledge.
Yet, understanding themselves as politically neutral observers,
Erving Goffman, Hugh Duncan and the others writing in this
tradition have not taken the step beyond description and
understanding toward a political critique of these exploitative and
dehumanizing processes, with few exceptions.  It remains an
important task, however, that dramaturgical analysis helps to
fulfill the promise of sociology in that it must provide knowledge
so that individuals and groups can reflect upon and challenge the
legitimacy of the structure and processes within this society
(Mills, 1959).  
From the point of view of critical sociology, traditional
dramaturgical analysis has served, on balance, the interests of
those social elites which benefit from the structural features
and exploitative processes existing within dramaturgical society. 
     The failure to provide that social and self-knowledge which is
essential to questions of the legitimacy of society is not specific
to dramaturgical analysis but is one which has characterized
sociology generally.  Despite the fact that sociology in general
has reneged on its promise of social and self- knowledge, the
creation of more rational, humane and participatory societies
remains the most important human project and a dramaturgical
sociology sensitive to this political interest is indispensable at
this point in human history.  
     While a variety of social analysts have sketched both the
basic structural features and the formal characteristics of
everyday interactions of dramaturgical society, it is important to
distinguish the intellectual foundations of a critical
dramaturgical analysis from its more traditional, pre-critical
counterpart and to outline a strategy to create a dramaturgy which
can better serve human interests in situations which require social
critique as well as description and understanding.  
Dramaturgy and Critical Theory.  
Largely through the work of Jurgen
Habermas (1970; McCarthy, 1978; Schroyer, 1973), critical social
theory has delineated three forms of scientific effort which can
facilitate the construction of more rational and humane societies.
These three scientific forms, moreover, operate to constitute and
support various social interests since they carry with them
legitimations or justifications of social practices. Critical
theory insists that when we adopt a theoretical perspective, such
as dramaturgy, or when we present a picture of human social
existence, we must always ask, whose interests are served by this
theory or this depiction of social life?  
Habermas maintains that theoretical perspectives and social
research strategies are not neutral but have an impact upon social
life in a variety of ways.  Habermas further maintains that
theoretical perspectives and research strategies can be grouped
into three categories each with a corresponding legitimation of
social practice.  To outline a critical dramaturgical analysis it
is helpful, first, to discuss the three forms of scientific
interest outlined by Habermas and, second, to discuss how examples
of the work of dramaturgical sociologists and the critics of
dramaturgy fit into each of these three categories.  
     In delineating the three categories of scientific interests,
Habermas utilizes two dimensions or two sets of criteria. These
dimensions can be understood as questions that are asked about the
particular perspective and research strategy. The first dimension
concerns the response to how the perspective views its subject
matter, people existing within a social context.  Are people
understood as the passive receptacles of the external stimuli of
the behavioral environment or of immutable social structures?  Or,
are people understood as the actual or potential creators of the
external behavioral environment?  These questions are essentially
questions of know- ledge or epistemology and they address the issue
of whether people are capable of reflecting upon themselves and
directing their own behavior.
So, Habermas' first dimension can be referred to as
"epistemological reflexivity."  Some uses of dramaturgy have been
epistemologically reflexive and others have not.  The second
dimension concerns how the theoretical orientation views its
relationship to the object of its analysis, the social world. The
basic question can be stated thus: does the perspective understand
itself as neutral toward or detached from the social world?  Or,
does it understand itself as necessarily engaged and existing in a
reciprocal or interactive relationship with the social world?
     These questions are essentially questions of the relationship
of scientific knowledge and social being and they address the issue
of what are the social and political problems and responsibilities
of science.  Habermas' second dimension can be referred to as
"ontological reflexivity."  Again, some uses of dramaturgy have
demonstrated an ontological reflexivity and others have not.
 The first form of scientific interest delineated by Habermas,
scientism, is reflexive neither epistemologically nor
ontologically.  In society, the structural-functionalism of Talcott
Parsons and Robert Merton, the abstracted empiricism of Paul
Lazarsfeld, the exchange theory of George Homans and the conflict
theories of Ralf Dahrendorf and Lewis Coser are theoretical
perspectives which can be categorized appropriately as scientistic. 

Scientism is concerned with the production of general laws and
the production and control of behavior, which contribute to the
critical analysis of society primarily by producing knowledge of
existing social relationships, patterns and contradictions.
Scientism is conceived from the critical stand- point as that mode
which produces information that assumes the interests of certainty
and technical control.  In sociology, the scientific perspective
makes certain domain assumptions about knowledge of society, such
as knowledge is inherently neutral and that the precision of the
natural sciences constitutes the only appropriate model for the
social sciences.  The consequences of a dramaturgy interpreted in
this mode will be discussed shortly.  However, what is essential to
note is that this form "although it conceives itself as neutral, is
actually an inquiry which has the theoretical interest and societal
consequence of maintaining technical control" (Schroyer, 1970:215).
Hermeneutics, the second mode of scientific effort, has provided a
potent challenge to the positivistic presentation of social life by
scientism.  The hermeneutic approaches are concerned with the
processes of the social construction of everyday life.  According
to Habermas and Schroyer, the hermeneutic sciences are conceived as
"that mode of interpretation that yields an understanding of the
social-cultural life world and that presupposes the interest of
extending intersubjective understanding" (Schroyer 1970:215).  The
intent of the hermeneutic approaches, which in sociology include
symbolic interactionism, phenomenology and ethnomethodology, is to
define the object of sociological analysis from a more humanistic
orientation by focusing on these intersubjective structures.  
While the hermeneutic viewpoints are reflexive in an
epistemological sense, as they will allow for the construction of
social reality by conscious, willful human agents, they, like
scientism, are not reflexive in an ontological sense. The
apolitical humanistic sociologist sees his/her work as not
constituting social reality but as merely and innocently
apprehending, describing and reflecting social processes.  
Habermas (1970:303) notes that the hermeneutic sciences have a
"scientific consciousness" in that they share the methodological
imperative of "describing a structured reality within the horizon
of the theoretical attitude."  Because they do not accept the
principle that scientific knowledge has a constitutive effect on
social relationships, the hermeneutic sciences have become "the
positivism of the cultural and social sciences."  As a consequence,
the hermeneutic or interpretive perspectives cannot be conceived to
be ontologically reflexive; they maintain that people are active
agents but insist on the political disinterest and social
disengagement of scientific practice.  In order to appreciate the
addition of ontological reflexivity we must move on to a
consideration of Habermas' third category of scientific effort, we
must move on to a consideration of critical or emancipatory
Critical social thought has consistently insisted upon an
epistemological break with the more traditional and conservative
social theories.  Max Horkheimer (1972), one of Habermas'
precursors in the Frankfort Institute for Social Research, has
distinguished critical from traditional theory by noting the
critical theorist's awareness of his/her social partiality.

Critical approaches reject the value-neutral and objective
self-understanding of the scientistic and hermeneutic approaches by
affirming the interactive, dialectical relationship between
knowledge and society.  Social reality, as the scientist's object
of cognition, is transformed by social knowledge from a
thing-in-itself to a thing-for-us.  In contrast to the claims of
those who argue that the sociological enterprise is an academic
effort somehow existing independently of social reality and has no
effect on social reality, the critical sociologist takes the
perspective that sociological theory and research are intellectual
definitions of the situation and, as such, cognitively structure
social reality and become prescriptions for social action, whether
they are so intended or not.  From a critical standpoint, social
reality is what it is to a great extent because of what social
scientists say about it.  Sociological, psychological, economic and
political science definitions of the situations, thus, have a
socially self-fulfilling character to them and social theory and
social research must be understood as socially situated
vocabularies of motive (Mills, 1940; Horton, 1966).  
It must come as no surprise that critical sociologists view
knowledge and definitions of reality not only emerging out of
specific socio-historical milieus but also as affirming or
transforming the social relationships of these socio- historical
milieus.  It is critical sociology which most fully grasps the dual
lesson of the sociology of knowledge: knowledge has a social base
and know- ledge constitutes a social base.  
The third mode of science, although it finds precious little
support in North American sociology, is emancipatory since it
comprehends the constitutive role of social science and affirms the
idea that human beings must participate in the interactional
encounters in the social construction of reality or else these
encounters lose their human and social character.   Following in
the tradition of Karl Marx, Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci and
Herbert Marcuse, the emancipatory thrust of science must be
emphasized in those situations in which structural obstacles to
full social participation have been erected.  In its emancipatory
modes, as Lukacs puts it, social science is the intellectual
expression of social revolution.  In more concrete terms, the role
of research and theory in opposing and transforming capitalist
commodity relationships and administered bureaucratic relationships
into fully social relationships is the political expression of
critical science.  The emancipatory mode of science must be
emphasized, for example, if an alienated objective social world is
elevated above subjective human meaning in the dialectic of the
social construction of reality, as Lukacs argues in his classic
book, History and Class Consciousness (1971).  
As is obvious, the scientistic perspective is the dominant image of
social life in the median era of bureaucratic capitalism and it
must not be understood as an endeavor separate from the process of
the social construction of reality, but instead it must be viewed
as a major form of legitimation for the social constructions of
monopoly capitalism and bureaucracy.  Critical sociology maintains
that not only do the major orientations of social theory serve as
intellectual justifications for those social categories directing
the various processes of bureaucracy and monopoly capitalism, but
they also help to constitute this reality in the consciousness of
those who suffer under them. The task of critical sociology is to
critique the theory and research of the dominant modes of
sociological endeavor and in so doing challenge the legitimacy of
the social reality it constitutes.  The emancipatory mode of
science rejects the necessity of historical modes of domination and
seeks the emancipation of people from such.  
Critical theory emphasizes that human emancipation is firmly
grounded in processes of self and social reflection upon the
legitimacy accorded the given social structural arrangements. 
While critical science seeks to mediate or affect human behavior by
raising questions about the legitimacy of such structural
arrangements, it deliberately seeks to avoid determining it.
Critical knowledge must augment human self- knowledge and encourage
human participation in societal processes, but it must never be
used for the managerial or exploitative purposes of one social
entity toward another.  
Dramaturgy, as a form of sociological analysis and a legitimation
of social practice, has constituted one response to the scientistic
interest by claiming to provide an apprehension of the processes of
social interaction in everyday life.  In this positivistic
interpretation, dramaturgy is utilized not as a metaphor but as an
accurate, literal reflection of social life.  The dramaturgical
structuralism of Dan Nimmo (1974), Robert S. Perinbanayagam (1982),
and George Gono (1977; 1980) are representative examples of this
category of literature, as are the later works of Goffman (1974;
1976; 1981).  All take the general orientation that dramatic action
is built into the process of social interaction and communication. 
Consequently, the dramaturgical behaviors such as impression
management and role distance described by Goffman are understood as
cultural universals.  In addition, psychologists have attempted to
"empiricize" Goffman's early dramaturgy by converting his concepts
into quantified variables and his insights into hypotheses testable
by experimental designs (Tedeschi, 1981).  The outcome of which has
been the elimination of the subjective concerns of alienation and
false role performances which permeated the early work of
dramaturgy in favor of quantification and generalization.  
Interpreting dramaturgical structuralism through Habermas' category
of scientism it is possible to discover the uses in technical
control it intellectually validates.  If social life is theater, if
human communication is drama, then it is socially consistent that
political candidates and policies, however repressive or
destructive, and products, however dangerous and meaningless, can
be merchandized, packaged and socially presented by organizations
and the media as necessary, responsible and beneficent.  While many
dramaturgical scholars do not accept the scientistic orientation,
those who are interested in capital accumulation and the extension
of repressive control systems, such as capitalists, bureaucrats,
advertisers and governmental propagandists, find in it an effective
legitimation for these social practices.  
Dramaturgy has contributed also to the hermeneutic interest by
elaborating the mechanics through which individuals and groups
create and sustain the presumption of social order through the
metaphor of the theater.   This hermeneutic interpretation, thus,
is willing to allow for the creativity of human subjects and it
affirms the essentially metaphorical nature of dramaturgy.  
However, although it often draws out the alienative, exploitative
dimensions of social life, Goffman's Asylums (1961a) and Stigma
(1963) are excellent examples here, the hermeneutic interpretation
does not understand itself as a device through which the social
relations of the dramaturgical society are maintained or can be
     The hermeneutic interpretation of dramaturgy views humans as
active, conscious willful agents who attempt to meet their material
and psycho- emotional needs in oppressive, difficult or problematic
social circumstances.  While the scientistic interpretation of
dramaturgy contributes to social emancipation by its depiction of
the historically relative fact that in the dramaturgical society
humans are dominated by structures, the hermeneutic interpretation
contributes to social emancipation by demonstrating that the
objectively existing structures of the dramaturgical society often
do not meet, but instead frustrate, the needs of human actors. 
Probably the hermeneutic interpretations of dramaturgy comprise the
bulk of the literature in dramaturgical analysis.  Representative
examples would include the early work of Goffman (1959; 1961a;
1961b; 1963) and the sort of articles contained in the first-rate
readers such as Brissett and Edgley's Life as Theater (1974).
Despite several recent seminal efforts, the critical dimensions in
dramaturgical sociology have not been developed.  This work is an
attempt to contribute to dramaturgical sociology and the formation
of a rational and humane social life-world by developing the
critical and emancipatory uses of dramaturgy.  While the
pre-critical dramaturgical analysis of Goffman and his followers
emanates from the assumption that the theater can be used as a
metaphor through which the sociologist can understand the methods
which an actor or team of actors utilizes to construct social
reality, the outcome of which is the effective blockage of the
critical, emancipatory interest of science, the critical
dramaturgical approach goes beyond the use of theater-as-metaphor
and views dramaturgy as an ideology through which an actor, a team
or an organization can construct a repressive and/or fraudulent
social reality.  
The critical interpretation of dramaturgy insists upon the
dialectical relationship between society and sociological
knowledge.  Further, social reality must be understood as a process
and sociological perspectives as contributors in this process,
otherwise the constitutive role of sociological knowledge is lost
and ontological reflexivity is denied.  The W. I. Thomas dictum
that what is conceived to be real also tends to become real must
hold true for scientific knowledge as well as common sense
knowledge.  Thus, dramaturgical sociology itself must be understood
as a technology or commodity for use in the social world.  
Dramaturgy and Immanent Critique.  
In a couple of recent reviews of critical literature in sociology, 
Robert Antonio (1981; 1983) argues that the method of immanent 
critique constitutes the core of critical theory and it is what unites 
such disparate social theorists such as Hegel, Marx, the Frankfurt 
School theorists, Lukacs, Gramsci and Habermas.  
The method of immanent critique is appropriate to the development 
of a critical dramaturgy while dramaturgical analysis is a form of 
sociological investigation which lends itself readily to immanent critique.  
Stated succinctly, immanent critique allows its user to restore
authenticity and actuality to false appearances by first expressing
what a social formation holds itself to be and contrasting that
with what in fact it is or what it is becoming.  In his
reformulation of the Hegelian dialectic, Marx was able to show that
the false appearance of reciprocity, the false equivalence of
exchange between labor and capital, was negated by the structural
tendencies of capitalist society which served only to intensify
human exploitation and alienation.  Antonio notes, "Immanent
critique attacks social reality from its own standpoint, but at the
same time criticizes the standpoint from the perspective of its
historical context"(1981:338).  Similarly, a critical dramaturgy
attempts to unmask the false presentations by contrasting the
phenomenal appearance with the in-itself reality.  
However, the elaboration of the opposition of the ideological claim
and the real social context is oriented toward social emancipation
as the ideal, the ideological claim or objective self-presentation,
is converted into a weapon to transform the real.  The false
correspondence of the ideal and the real is elaborated in the first
instance as a method of social analysis but it has a political
meaning as well - to make the ideal real.  
One inspiration for the critical project of scientific and social
transformation and which serves also as an example of the method of
immanent critique can be framed in Marx's (1970) critique of
Hegel's political philosophy.  In his Critique of Hegel's
"Philosophy of Right" Marx noted that Hegel's comprehension and
presentation of social reality, when stripped of its pantheistic
mysticism, was fairly accurate as a picture of capitalist society
in its emergent form.  Marx then proceeded to demonstrate the
contradictions in Hegel's work which would illuminate the
contradictions in capitalist society.  Because it was thought to be
a true presentation of political reality and because it was backed
up by state power, Hegel's political philosophy was an intellectual
definition of the situation which served to shape social reality.
Hegel's political philosophy was not merely an innocent oblation to
the Prussian state and Marx did not critique it merely because he
was interested in philosophy.  Marx understood that the ruling
ideas were the ideas of the ruling class which means, in part, that
the dominant ideas about social relations benefit those who rule by
legitimating their power.  Thus, the emancipatory interest of
science is advanced by examining the ruling ideas of an historical
epoch.  If dehumanizing, alienating dimensions can be demonstrated
in the ruling ideas, then these will illuminate the dehumanizing,
alienating dimensions of a social formation.  
Critical sociology begins from the same premise of the relationship
between ideological claims, intellectual definitions of the
situation, and the reality of everyday human experience.  The
critique of dramaturgical sociology serves the emancipatory
interest by providing a map for the critique of dramaturgical
society, which it both reflects and has helped to constitute.  
Beyond the presentation of the fraudulent and repressive character
of the reality of dramaturgical society, the emancipatory task of
dramaturgical sociology is the critique of this reality in order to
return to human agents the capacity to fully participate in the
social construction of reality.  
Traditional symbolic interactionism assumed a correspondence or
identity of the in-itself reality and the phenomenal appearance. 
When George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley and Herbert Blumer
state that human, social interaction consists of subjective meaning
being tied to objective gestures they insist that the overt
presentation is an accurate reflection of that which is hidden from
public view.  While dramaturgy developed out of this perspective,
by no means did it claim that there are any guarantees that the
presentation, the objective gesture, is a necessary reflection of
the in-itself reality, subjective human meaning.  Goffman's work,
as one example, ought to unravel the often oppositional
relationship between the self as a core entity and the self as it
is presented to others.  However, because his inquiry was blocked
at the level of hermeneutics, Goffman appreciated the frequent
opposition between the two but he succeeded only in elevating the
reality of the latter and not in overcoming the opposition.
Young and Massey (1977) on the other hand, in their essay on the
dramaturgical society emphasize the frequent opposition between
organizational social practice as a thing-in-itself reality and as
a presented reality.  Opposed to Goffman, however, the critical
analysis of Young and Massey enables them to suggest that a
societal transformation can resolve the contradiction.  
Furthermore, it has become equally clear that the phenomenal
presentations can be used to mystify the reality of the
thing-in-itself.  It is at this juncture that critical dramaturgy
becomes important.  When there is a mismatch between the
thing-as-presented and the thing-in-itself, then a form of fraud or
distorted communication has occurred.  Yet, fraud or distorted
communication is not to be abstractly denounced on solely
moralistic grounds.  Instead, fraud serves to alienate objective
and subjective reality and operates to circumvent processes of
symbolic interaction, human realization and the social construction
of reality.  Utilizing the method of immanent critique, critical
dramaturgy attempts to expose fraud in the interaction process as
an alienative, exploitative process and to return to human agents
the full capacity to participate in the social construction of
reality.  It should be apparent that this politicized form of
dramaturgy bears a very close affinity to the critique of ideology
and culture as it has come to be practiced in critical literature. 
Viewing dramaturgy not only as a mode of sociological analysis but
as a constituted social form, Young and Massey noted that
large-scale organizations utilize various technologies to create
false images of accountability, participation and reciprocity.  In
focusing on the mismatch between the presented reality and the
thing-in-itself reality the work of Marx remains important
partially because of its substantive content but especially because
its method of immanent critique.  Class societies have always
developed ideologies which have functioned to mystify power
relations for the purposes of maintaining asymmetrical processes in
the construction of social life-worlds.  Marx (1972) demystified
the "reciprocity" of labor and capital by showing what the
expropriation of surplus value contradicted the notion of equal
exchange underlying all social relations in capitalist society. 
The notion of equal exchange functioned as a presentation which
mystified the reality of the process of capital accumulation, since
the latter depended upon the extraction of surplus value or the
exploitation of the worker.  In fact, the survival of capitalism
depended, in part, upon the continued acceptance by the exploited
workers of the "equality" or "reciprocity" of labor and capital. 
It is not unreasonable to expect, therefore, that those who benefit
by continued capital accumulation would be interested in hiring out
a cadre of technical workers which would specialize in the
generation of ideologies and mystifications.  
Antonio Gramsci (1971) whose very important work is only now being
recognized as such by sociologists, developed further ideas which
contribute to a critical dramaturgical sociology.  Gramsci
insightfully noted that power and domination in alienated society
is maintained not only by material forces of coercion and
repression but also within the consciousness of people.  With the
concept of "ideological hegemony" Gramsci maintained that the
ruling class always seeks to legitimate its power through the
creation and imposition of a worldview which stresses the need for
order, authority and discipline.  Consciously the ruling class
attempts to subvert and emasculate the potential of revolutionary
protest by subordinate social categories.  Capitalism can balance
its contradictions and manage its objective crises by "taking
captive" the minds of those victimized by its processes of
alienation and exploitation.  Ideological hegemony depends upon the
ruling class seizing and controlling the means of communication or
the means of the production of culture.  The unseen power of the
ruling class is enhanced in the schools, in the family, in the
workplace, by the television set and by a communicative technology
which generates this worldview.  The sociology of fraud, the
concrete management of consciousness, as practiced by the ruling
class must be made visible if society is to be transformed and the
wedge between objective and subjective reality is to be removed.
Independent of the work of Gramsci, the Hegelian Marxism of Georg
Lukacs (1971) affirmed the ability of the ruling class to maintain
its hegemony through the control of consciousness.  The central
problematic of Lukacs' History and Class Consciousness emphasized
that the failure of socialist revolutions centered around the
Marxist failure to focus attention on the processes through which
the ruling class controlled its subject populace through ideas. 
The notion of "reified consciousness" as the obstacle to socialist
revolution bears an affinity to a critical dramaturgical analysis
in that both emphasize that the consciousness of the people is
managed by an elite for the purposes of capital accumulation and
political legitimacy.  For Lukacs, the central aspect of the
totality of a social formation lies in the connection between
objective and subjective dimensions which are historically
synthesized in the class consciousness of the proletariat.  In the
interest of maintaining the status quo of the capitalist totality
a process emerges which falsely differentiates the two dimensions
in that they are no longer viewed as identical.  This is
reification.  Reification refers to the apprehension of the
human-made world in terms which affirm its independence from humans. 
Thus, objective social relations and culture become viewed as
"things" and are understood as being part of the natural world.
Reification is thus a dangerous departure from the normal social
objectification of cultural artifacts and social bonds in that it
ultimately inverts subject object relations and is used to create
a politically and socially docile proletariat.  Reification must be
overcome if human agents are to participate in the social
construction of reality in a reflexive, reciprocal manner. The
relationship of the work of Lukacs, and that of Marx and Gramsci as
well, can be summarized in the vocabulary of a critical
dramaturgical analysis by saying that in class societies,
regardless of technological development or the objective structures
of inequality, domination and exploitation can be maintained or
extended through asymmetrical prerogatives to define reality on the
part of subordinate and superordinate social categories.  Under
capitalism the problems of capital accumulation and political
legitimacy can be solved by class and organizational elites by
maintaining the false impressions of reciprocity, the necessity of
order, authority and discipline or the reified view of reality.
In addition to the more general critique of the scientistic and
hermeneutic interpretations of dramaturgy offered by critical
dramaturgy, more specific points of opposition can be derived
between the pre-critical and emancipatory interests and uses of
dramaturgy:  As a consequence of the political sterility of the
overwhelming bulk of dramaturgical sociology, there is the absence
of any great moral outrage on the part of those who report on the
cynical, managerial efforts to stage reality and manipulate the
consciousness of human beings.  This fault is a particular
manifestation of the more general shortcomings of pre-critical
sociology.  However, the critical uses of dramaturgy involve
attempts to demystify the legitimations of alienated and
exploitative social life- worlds.  Thus, an expression of moral
outrage is a valued act, both scientifically and politically, when
in response to manipulation and deceit.
Both scientistic and hermeneutic dramaturgy have failed miserably
to include consideration of the larger socio-historical focus which
produce the dramaturgy practices in everyday life by individual
actors and large-scale organizations.  The analyst who asks what
brought dramaturgy about will be disappointed by pre-critical
dramaturgical literature.  The ahistorical perspective of
dramaturgy would make one think that the dramaturgy employed in
everyday life is a transcendental human dilemma and that either
original sin, nature or hidden social structures are responsible
for it.  The critical view, on the other hand, understands
dramaturgy as a phenomenon dependent upon various social and
historical conditions.  The recurrent crises of capital
accumulation (O'Connor, 1973) and of political legitimacy
(Habermas, 1974), as well as the rise of predominantly Gesellschaft
social relations (Tonnies, 1957), loom as paramount in this regard.
The connection between dramaturgy and its macro-social base must be
Pre-critical uses of dramaturgy have failed also to critique
constructed social reality from a perspective of the moral values
claimed within that social reality.  The method of immanent
critique emphasizes the mismatch between the public claims and the
public performances of social formations.  To the extent that a
mismatch exists, social formations are alienated and must be
critiqued from the perspective of the public claim.  The
phenomenological imperative of understanding social formations on
their own terms is crassly overridden by conservative dramaturgical
analysis which seeks instead to understand things on its terms,
which entails the inflexible imposition of a theatrical model upon
human subjects.  The critical view does not seek to control human
behavior by imposing an artificial model on social life.  Instead,
the critical emphasis is to mediate human behavior by providing
knowledge so that people can reflect upon the legitimacy of
obstacles to full participation in the social construction of
An important specific criticism of dramaturgy is the absence of any
coherent theoretical context with which to give dramaturgical
analysis a meaning context.  The critical uses of dramaturgy
accepts that a valid distinction can be made between authentic and
fraudulent social formations and presentations of self. 
Pre-critical dramaturgy either obfuscates this distinction or
collapses the two into the latter so that it cannot delineate the
boundaries of where it can and cannot be applied legitimately.
While the dramaturgy described by structuralist and hermeneutic
analysts is a social device that is probably always utilized in
fraudulent social formations, it is not true that it is always
utilized in authentic social formations.  In not understanding this
distinction, pre-critical dramaturgy has not only mystified the
variability of social relations, it has overlooked some very
exciting uses of dramaturgy, for example, the dramaturgy of
undistorted communications or of authentic social performances.  
A final specific criticism of dramaturgical analysis is its
unconcern with a systematic explanation of how dramaturgy could
amplify the human condition.  Life without dramaturgy would be one
without joy, pride, delight, surprise and enchantment.  
Dramaturgical sociology must be pointed to the processes by which
human beings set themselves apart from the natural world.  The use
of drama to distinguish the profane world of nature from the
scarred world of humanity and community, of status and solidarity
is abused when dramaturgy is used for commercial or managerial
purposes, or simply as another commodity.  
While these criticisms are largely valid, note that they do not
negate the importance of dramaturgical analysis.  Instead, they
condemn a dramaturgy that is divorced from the emancipatory
interest.  These criticisms should form the basis around which a
critical dramaturgical analysis can be constituted.  Dramaturgical
analysis has far too much to offer as a mode of understanding and
transforming social life to continue as a dilettantish excursion
into sunshine sociology and it is too important to be written off
by serious radicals as necessarily an exercise in
counterrevolution.  Transformed into a critical mode, dramaturgy's
contributions as a revolutionary project cannot be ignored.
The Constitution of a Critical Dramaturgy. 
 Bearing in mind that in the present socio-historical context critical 
dramaturgy 	understands itself as being in opposition to the manipulative,
coercive technologies utilized by bureaucratic and class elites to
manage problems of capital accumulation and political legitimacy,
it is important to review efforts which have appeared in recent
sociological literature attempting to subject dramaturgy to a
radical critique.  The intention is to evaluate these efforts as
adequate critiques for the transformation of the dramaturgical
society and to further specify the method of a critical
dramaturgical analysis.  
In his The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, Alvin Gouldner
(1970:378- 390) conceives of Goffman's early dramaturgical
sociology as symptomatic of the crisis of Western sociology.
Gouldner basically equates Western sociology with the
structural-functionalism of Talcott Parsons, and its crisis lies
primarily in its inability to provide an adequate theory of social
change which has undermined somewhat its utility as a legitimation
for the capitalist Welfare State, which must use change and
planning strategies to cope with an increasing surplus population
and the crisis of underconsumption.  Gouldner senses both the
critical and conservative potential in Goffman's dramaturgy.  He
notes that Goffman's dramaturgical sociology, in a sense, is a
rebellion against the system's level of analysis, which seems to
preclude the comprehension of social reality as the result of an
ongoing process of human interaction.  In other words, Goffman's
dramaturgy can be viewed as a hermeneutic response to the scientism
of structural-functionalism.  
Gouldner also sees critical potential in Goffman's hermeneutic
sociology of fraud precisely because it legitimates the
individual's prerogative to con the system.  Dramaturgy, according
to Gouldner, has critical dimensions because it certainly passes no
negative moral judgment on tax evaders, or asylum inmates who
manipulate their jailers.  On balance, however, Gouldner sees a
greater degree of conservative potential in Goffman's dramaturgy. 
Primarily, Gouldner is worried that dramaturgy reduces humans to
mere commodities and he effectively ties the work of Goffman to the
"organization man" as a legitimation of "getting kicks" out of
things as they are, since the transformation of society is defined
out of the realm of possibility by the conservative dramaturgical
ideologists.  Of course, the technology of conning the system is
not equally available to all individuals throughout all social
strata.  Thus, dramaturgy is a technology of rebellion primarily
for the "new bourgeoisie" and socially it functions as a technology
that legitimates the reduction of persons and selves to the status
of mere commodities.
While Gouldner is certainly to be applauded for unmasking the
"rebellious" dimensions in Goffman's dramaturgy and demonstrating
the link between dramaturgy and the "commodity fetishism" of
monopoly capitalism, his work must be understood as only a starting
point in the development of an immanent critique of dramaturgical
society.  Gouldner is worried about the demise of
structural-functionalism and he deals with dramaturgy in a briefly
critical manner only as a stepping stone to his personal response
to the crisis.  This is his "reflexive" sociology, which turns out
to be reflexive in only an epistemological sense.  The critical
dramaturgist responds that Gouldner has missed the mark in
constituting a crisis in structural-functionalism, which is perhaps
a historically obsolete sociological legitimation for the processes
of the particular phase of capitalism it attempted to apprehend and
maintain.  The critical dramaturgical sociologist counters that
perhaps the crisis of capitalist society and Western sociology is
now being managed by the adoption of dramaturgy as a sociology and
a technology for legitimating this particular phase of capitalist
domination.  If so, the significant task for those sociologists
wanting to contribute to the construction of a fully rational and
humane and participatory social reality is the critique of
dramaturgical sociology and the dramaturgical society it has helped
to constitute.  
In a thoughtful critique of the dramaturgical sociology of Goffman,
Ivan Chapman (1974:45-52) demonstrates the departures of dramaturgy
from a fully social, fully participatory model of social action
based on symbolic interaction in which each actor possesses the
prerogative to contribute to the meaning of a socially significant
symbol.  Utilizing a Meadian framework of symbolic interaction at
the dyadic level of social analysis, Chapman notes that both actors
are free to exercise both their "I" and "me" capabilities in an
ongoing process of defining the situation.  Goffman's model,
Chapman argues, is the symbolic management of one person by
another.  In the case of the social dyad, the actor utilizing the
technology of dramaturgy feels no social constraint by the
mediating socially significant symbol, but feigns his/her "I" act
of personal desire so that it appears to be based on social meaning
and in so doing evokes in the other a "me" response based on the
acceptance in good faith of the "expression given off" as though it
were an "expression given" or an expression based on mutual social
meaning.  The person acting in good faith is reduced to an object,
a "me" in the Median sense, and can be used, exploited, objectified
or taken captive by the exploiting actor.  The exploiting actor
only appears to shift to a "me" while retaining all "I"
prerogatives to define the situation.  With the loss, evasion or
circumvention of the reciprocity of symbolic processes of
interaction, the dyad is destroyed as a fully human, social and
participatory processes of reality construction.  
Chapman objects to Goffman's dramaturgical reduction of social life
to episodic con games and he has demonstrated the departures of
Goffman's symbolic management emphasizing good faith and
reciprocity.  Yet, as an exemplar for a fully critical dramaturgy
Chapman's opposition of "Social Interaction versus the Appearance
of Social Interaction" falls somewhat short.  First, because he
chooses to deal with Goffman's dramaturgical sociology and not with
the reality of the dramaturgical society, Chapman does not develop
an immanent critique.  His critique is one which emphasizes the
social consequences of Goffman's dramaturgy and he rejects Goffman
on the basis of dramaturgy's legitimation of symbolic management. 
What is essential to an immanent critique, however, is that
Goffman's dramaturgy be accepted as an adequate depiction of the
nature of social reality.  A one-sided focus on Goffman's
dramaturgy, excluding a focus on upon the social reality of
dramaturgical practice, fails to develop an opposition between the
presented reality and the in-itself reality.  Goffman's depiction
of social life is dismissed by Chapman as inaccurate and the
ideological social presentations of good faith, authenticity and
reciprocity, the qualities of Median symbolic interactionism are
accepted as adequate depictions of life under modern monopoly
capitalism.  Thus, Chapman confuses the ideological claim and the
real characteristics of social life in this historical context.  
Chapman's failure to address the social ontology of the
dramaturgical society leads to another problem.  Chapman senses the
contradiction between "social interaction" and the "appearance of
social interaction" as a universal moral dilemma.  He does not
ground the dramaturgical behaviors he finds repugnant in relative
and concrete socio-historical circumstances.  Chapman fails to pose
the question: in what kinds of societies does the dramaturgical
departure appear or become significant?  
From a critical standpoint, the dramaturgical exploitation of one
actor by another must be situated in social formations which are
historically relative and which serve the interests of one social
category at the expense of another social category.  For example,
the rise of capitalism as a mode of economic production and
distribution, with its elevation of secondary, Gesellschaft group
relations, undoubtedly contributed to the emergence and
legitimation of the individual and team exercise of a dramaturgical
technology.  After all, the social reality of capitalism insists
that persons are to treat others and expect to be treated as
commodities.  Yet, the relationship between capitalism and its
consequent elevation of Gesellschaft relations and a dramaturgical
technology escapes Chapman's analysis.  Therefore, he cannot
conclude that dramaturgical exploitation can be overcome by the
overthrow of the social formations making it a possible and a
legitimate technology in interpersonal relations.  Instead of
dismissing Goffman's legitimation of con artistry, Chapman
universalizes it.
Ultimately, Chapman's critique of Goffman, like that of Gouldner,
becomes nothing more than a moralistic lament with nothing but
dread for the "social" reality of the present and dread for the
future.  His failure to establish a fully critical dramaturgy must
be tied to his choice of critiquing dramaturgy solely on
epistemological grounds, which is an important undertaking, but
which is an obstacle to the critique of the social reality of
dramaturgical exploitation.  Showing departures in Goffman's work
from a fully human, fully social and fully participatory paradigm
is not sufficient.  The departures must be demonstrated also in the
everyday lives of the inhabitants of the alienated reality of the
dramaturgical society.  
Beyond Gouldner and Chapman, the additional task of the critical
dramaturgist is the overthrow of those socio-historical formations
permitting and creating a dramaturgical society and its
socio-historical legitimations.  The repressive, exploitative uses
of dramaturgy must not be confronted on epistemological grounds
solely; instead, the development and encouragement of political
activities through which the dramaturgical society can be
overthrown and the full capacity of people to participate in the
social construction of everyday life constitute the additional
central interests of a critical dramaturgical sociology.

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