According to Portland State University, dramaturgy, a theory developed by Erving Goffman, holds that behavior is an act: People behave as they do to control what others think of them, an idea called impression management. For example, most people dress up for a job interview but not for a football game. They change their appearance for the two occasions so they can meet others’ expectations and be treated better. Heather Shay, assistant professor of sociology at Lake Superior State University, says a common assignment for sociology students is to complete a dramaturgy analysis of a person, group or behavior to find the deeper meaning behind people’s interactions. She recommends this method to complete the analysis.
Choose a Subject
Decide what to study unless your professor has already assigned you something. You could study a particular person -- a celebrity, for example -- or you could choose someone you know if your professor allows you to do your own fieldwork. You might choose a group of people, like the people who frequent your favorite coffee shop or the people who belong to some club or group on campus. Refine your subject from there. Instead of just choosing a celebrity, be more specific. You may want to know, for example, how a country artist shows he is from the country. You may want to know why most people in your gaming club wear T-shirts with uncommon popular culture references on them or why people at your local sports bar wear team jerseys on game day when they aren’t playing the sport.
Gather Your Data
Find out more about your subject. If you have chosen a celebrity, do some research to find examples of the behavior you are studying. If you are studying the country singer, for example, look at how he dresses and what he sings about to portray an image of authenticity. If you are doing field research, find the group you are studying and spend time in its hangouts. Attend the game club meetings or visit the sports bar on several game days. Take notes of the behavior you are studying and how others react to that behavior.
Explain the Meaning of the Behavior
Interpret your findings. You may compare the behavior to stereotypes about the people who engage in it, like saying the country artist drives a truck because trucks are popular in rural areas and rural people can identify with the artist as a result. Research current trends for different subcultures. For example, you may find an ethnographic study of gamers that shows the T-shirts they wear allow gamers to show that they know a lot about cult TV shows and movies and that knowledge is the key to status in that community. You may base your judgment on others’ reactions and say that the people who wore team jerseys to the bar on game day were treated better than people who didn’t.
The Larger Issue
Once you have studied the behavior on its own, connect it to something larger. You may need to connect your study to current literature on the topic. In the study on gamers, you could compare the behavior you saw to the various studies on nerd masculinity. Alternatively, you could show the consequences people experienced for not engaging in the expected behavior. For example, you may be able to demonstrate that the country singer who drove a hybrid sedan didn't sell as many albums as when he drove a truck. Or you might show that sports bar patrons who didn't wear jerseys struck out in their attempts to socialize because they were perceived as less authentic than the patrons who wore jerseys.
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