Impression management
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Concept developed by Goffman. Goffman imagines social life as if it took place on a theater stage. The stage is the world, and we are all both actors and audience. The actors play "roles", i.e. they control the impressions they give off, so as to control how others will relate to them. (In contrast, one does not control the spontaneous impressions that one gives.) Roughly speaking, one may differentiate social life into two categories, that which takes place "on the scene" (frontstage) and that which take place "behind the scenes" (backstage). Backstage we are simultaneously safer and more vulnerable: It is here we change our mental, physical and moral "underwear". Backstage is thus a space for rest and "letting down one's guard", but also a space where one prepares oneself for frontstage performances. Frontstage has a more public orientation. Here it is more explicit that we show ourselves to someone as someone, we have our "clothes" on. Front- and backstage are reflexive concepts and have no absolute reference. What is frontstage in one context or from one perspective may be backstage if the context or perspective is changed. A teacher, for example, may be said to be frontstage when speaking to his/her class, and to retire to backstage when meeting with other teachers and discussing the students with them in the intermission. From another perspective, however, the teacher is frontstage when interacting with (comparing her/himself with, competing with) other teachers and backstage while teaching (relaxing with the students, withdrawn from the backstabbing and evaluation of the teachers' room). The fluid and reflexive nature of these concepts makes Goffman's methodological approach uniquely suited to describe subtle nuances in human communication. See metacommunication.