Sociologist Erving Goffman (1922–1982) recasted the theatrical term dramaturgy into a sociological term. He used the term to mean that social life is like a drama or a stage play: Birth ushers us onto the stage of every- day life, and our socialization consists of learning to perform on that stage. The self lies at the center of our performances.
We have ideas of how we want others to think of us, and we use our roles in everyday life to communicate those ideas. Goffman called these efforts to manage the impressions that others receive of us impression management.
Everyday life, said Goffman, involves playing our assigned roles. We have front stages on which to perform them, in fact, we spend most of our time on front stages, for a front stage is wherever we deliver our lines. We also have back stages, places where we can retreat and let our hair down. When we close the bathroom or bedroom door for privacy, for example, you are entering a back stage.
The same setting can serve as both a back and a front stage. For example, when we get into our car and look over our hair in the mirror or check our makeup, we are using the car as a back stage. Everyday life brings with it many roles.
The same person may be a student, a teenager, a shopper, a worker, and a date, as well as a daughter or a son. Although a role lays down the basic outline for a performance, it also allows a great deal of flexibility. The particular emphasis or interpretation that we give a role, our "style," is known as role performance.