Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York:
Doubleday, 1956, pp. 22-30, 70-76.
I have been using the
term "performance" to refer to all the activity of an
individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous
presence before a particular set of observers and which has some
influence on the observers. It will be convenient to label as "front"
that part of the individual's performance which regularly functions
in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those
who observe the performance. Front, then, is the expressive equipment
of a standard kind intentionally or unwittingly employed by the
individual during his performance. For preliminary purposes, it
will be convenient to distinguish and label what seem to be the
standard parts of front.
there is the "setting," involving furniture, decor physical
layout, and other background items which supply the scenery and
stage props for the spate of human action played out before, within,
or upon it. A setting tends to stay put, geographically speaking,
so that those who would use a particular setting as part of their
performance cannot begin their act until they have brought themselves
to the appropriate place and must terminate their performance when
they leave it. It is only in exceptional circumstances that the
setting follows along with the performers; we see this in the funeral
cortege, the civic parade, and the dreamlike processions that kings
and queens are made of. In the main, these exceptions seem to offer
some kind of extra protection for performers who are, or who have
momentarily become, highly sacred. These worthies are to be distinguished,
of course, from quite profane performers of the peddler class who
move their place of work between performances, often being forced
to do so. In the matter of having one fixed place for one's setting,
a ruler may be too sacred, a peddler too profane.
about the scenic aspects of front, we tend to think of the living
room in a particular house and the small number of performers who
can thoroughly identify themselves with it. We have given insufficient
attention to assemblages of sign-equipment which large numbers of
performers can call their own for short periods of time. It is characteristic
of Western European countries, and no doubt a source of stability
for them, that a large number of luxurious settings are available
for hire to anyone of the right kind who can afford them. One illustration
of this may be cited from a study of the higher civil servant in
how far the men who rise to the top in the Civil Service take on
the "tone" or "color" of a class other than
that to which they belong by birth is delicate and difficult. The
only definite information bearing on the question is the figures
relating to the membership of the great London clubs. More than
three-quarters of our high administrative officials belong to one
or more clubs of high status and considerable luxury, where the
entrance fee might be twenty guineas or more, and the annual subscription
from twelve to twenty guineas. These institutions are of the upper
class (not even of the upper-middle) in their premises, their equipment,
the style of living practiced there, their whole atmosphere. Though
many of the members would not be described as wealthy, only a wealthy
man would unaided provide for himself and his family space, food
and drink, service, and other amenities of life to the same standard
as he will find at the Union, the Travellers', or the Reform. 
can be found in the recent development of the medical profession
where we find that it is increasingly important for a doctor to
have access to the elaborate scientific stage provided by large
hospitals, so that fewer and fewer doctors are able to feel that
their setting is a place that they can lock up at night. 
If we take the
term "setting" to refer to the scenic parts of expressive
equipment, one may take the term "personal front" to refer
to the other items of expressive equipment, the items that we most
intimately identify with the performer himself and that we naturally
expect will follow the performer wherever he goes. As part Of personal
front we may include: insignia of office or rank; clothing; sex,
age, and racial characteristics; size and looks; posture; speech
patterns; facial expressions; bodily gestures; and the like. Some
of these vehicles for conveying signs, such as racial characteristics,
are relatively fixed and over a span of time do not vary for the
individual from one situation to another. On the other hand, some
of these sign vehicles are relatively mobile or transitory, such
as facial expression, and can vary ; during a performance from one
moment to the next.
It is sometimes
convenient to divide the stimuli which make up personal front into
"appearance" and "manner," according to the
function performed by the information that these stimuli convey.
"Appearance'' may be taken to refer to those stimuli which
function at the time to tell us of the performer's social statuses.
These stimuli also tell us of the individual's temporary ritual
state, that is, whether he is engaging in formal social activity,
work, or informal recreation, whether or not he is celebrating a
new phase in the season cycle or in his life-cycle. "Manner"
may be taken to refer to those stimuli which function at the time
to warn us of the interaction role the performer will expect to
play in the oncoming situation. Thus a haughty, aggressive manner
may give the impression that the performer expects to be the one
who will initiate the verbal interaction and direct its course.
A meek, apologetic manner may give the impression that the performer
expects to follow the lead of others, or at least that he can be
led to do so.
We often expect,
of course, a confirming consistency between appearance and manner;
we expect that the differences in social statuses among the interactants
will be expressed in some way by congruent differences in the indications
that are made of an expected interaction role. This type of coherence
of front may be illustrated by the following description of the
procession of a mandarin through a Chinese city:
behind . . . the luxurious chair of the mandarin, carried by eight
bearers, fills the vacant space in the street. He is mayor of the
town, and for all practical purposes the supreme power in it. He
is an ideal-looking official, for he is large and massive in appearance,
whilst he has that stern and uncompromising look that is supposed
to be necessary in any magistrate who would hope to keep his subjects
in order. He has a stern and forbidding aspect, as though he were
on his way to the execution ground to have some criminal decapitated.
This is the kind of air that the mandarins put on when they appear
in public. In the course of many years' experience, I have never
once seen any of them, from the highest to the lowest, with a smile
on his face or a look of sympathy for the people whilst he was being
carried officially through the streets. 
But, of course,
appearance and manner may tend to contradict each other, as when
a performer who appears to be of higher estate than his audience
acts in a manner that is unexpectedly equalitarian, or intimate,
or apologetic, or when a performer dressed in the garments of a
high position presents himself to an individual of even higher status.
to the expected consistency between appearance and manner, we expect,
of course, some coherence among setting, appearance, and manner.
 Such coherence represents an ideal type that provides us with
a means of stimulating our attention to and interest in exceptions.
In this the student is assisted by the journalist, for exceptions
to expected consistency among setting, appearance, and manner provide
the piquancy and glamor of many careers and the salable appeal of
many magazine articles. For example, a New Yorker profile on Roger
Stevens (the real estate agent who engineered the sale of the Empire
State Building) comments on the startling fact that Stevens has
a small house, a meager office, and no letterhead stationery. 
In order to
explore more fully the relations among the several parts of social
front, it will be convenient to consider here a significant characteristic
of the information conveyed by front, namely, its abstractness and
and unique a routine is, its social front, with certain exceptions,
will tend to claim facts that can be equally claimed and asserted
of other, somewhat different routines. For example, many service
occupations offer their clients a performance that is illuminated
with dramatic expressions of cleanliness, modernity, competence,
and integrity. While in fact these abstract standards have a different
significance in different occupational performances, the observer
is encouraged to stress the abstract similarities. For the observer
this is a wonderful, though sometimes disastrous, convenience. Instead
of having to maintain a different pattern of expectation and responsive
treatment for each slightly different performer and performance,
he can place the situation in a broad category around which it is
easy for him to mobilize his past experience and stereo-typical
thinking. Observers then need only be familiar with a small and
hence manageable vocabulary of fronts and know how to respond to
them, in order to orient themselves in a wide variety of situations.
Thus in London the current tendency for chimney sweeps  and perfume
clerks to wear white lab coats tends to provide the client with
an understanding that the delicate tasks performed by these persons
will be performed in what has become a standardized, clinical, confidential
There are grounds
for believing that the tendency for a large number of different
acts to be presented from behind a small number of fronts is a natural
development in social organization. Radcliffe-Brown has suggested
this in his claim that a "descriptive" kinship system
which gives each person a unique place may work for very small communities,
but, as the number of persons becomes large, clan segmentation becomes
necessary as a means of providing a less complicated system of identifications
and treatments.  We see this tendency illustrated in factories,
barracks, and other large social establishments. Those who organize
these establishments find it impossible to provide a special cafeteria,
special modes of payment, special vacation rights, and special sanitary
facilities for every line and staff status category in the organization,
and at the same time they feel that persons of dissimilar status
ought not to be indiscriminately thrown together or classified together.
As a compromise, the full range of diversity is cut at a few crucial
points, and all those within a given bracket are allowed or obliged
to maintain the same social front in certain situations.
to the fact that different routines may employ the same front, it
is to be noted that a given social front tends to become institutionalized
in terms of the abstract stereotyped expectations to which it gives
rise, and tends to take on a meaning and stability apart from the
specific tasks which happen at the time to be performed in its name.
The front becomes a "collective representation" and a
fact in its own right.
When an actor
takes on an established social role, usually he finds that a particular
front has already been established for it. Whether his acquisition
of the role was primarily motivated by a desire to perform the given
task or by a desire to maintain the corresponding front, the actor
will find that he must do both.
the individual takes on a task that is not only new to him but also
unestablished in the society, or if he attempts to change the light
in which his task is viewed, he is likely to find that there are
already several well-established fronts among which he must choose.
Thus, when a task is given a new front we seldom find that the front
it is given is itself new.
tend to be selected, not created, we may expect trouble to arise
when those who perform a given task are forced to select a suitable
front for themselves from among several quite dissimilar ones. Thus,
in military organizations, tasks are always developing which (it
is felt) require too much authority and skill to be carried out
behind the front maintained by one grade of personnel and too little
authority and skill to be carried out behind the front maintained
by the next grade in the hierarchy. Since there are relatively large
jumps between grades, the task will come to "carry too much
rank" or to carry too little.
illustration of the dilemma of selecting an appropriate front from
several not quite fitting ones may be found today in American medical
organizations with respect to the task of administering anesthesia.
 In some hospitals anesthesia is still administered by nurses
behind the front that nurses are allowed to have in hospitals regardless
of the tasks they perform--a front involving ceremonial subordination
to doctors and a relatively low rate of pay. In order to establish
anesthesiology as a speciality for graduate medical doctors, interested
practitioners have had to advocate strongly the idea that administering
anesthesia is a sufficiently complex and vital task to justify giving
to those who perform it the ceremonial and financial reward given
to doctors. The difference between the front maintained by a nurse
and the front maintained by a doctor is great; many things that
are acceptable for nurses are infra dignitatem for doctors. Some
medical people have felt that a nurse "under-ranked" for
the task of administering anesthesia and that doctors "over-ranked";
were there I an established status midway between nurse and doctor,
an easier solution to the problem could perhaps be found.  Similarly,
had the Canadian Army had a rank halfway between lieutenant and
captain, two and a half pips instead of two or three, then Dental
Corps captains, many of them of a low ethnic origin, could have
been given a rank that would perhaps have been more suitable in
the eyes of the Army than the captaincies they were actually given.
I do not mean
here to stress the point of view of a formal organization or a society;
the individual, as someone who possesses a limited range of sign-equipment,
must also make unhappy choices. Thus, in the crofting community
studied by the writer, hosts often marked the visit of a friend
by offering him a shot of hard liquor, a glass of wine, some home-made
brew, or a cup of tea. The higher the rank or temporary ceremonial
status of the visitor, the more likely he was to receive an offering
near the liquor end of the continuum. Now one problem associated
with this range of sign-equipment was that some crofters could not
afford to keep a bottle of hard liquor, so that wine tended to be
the most indulgent gesture they could employ. But perhaps a more
common difficulty was the fact that certain visitors, given their
permanent and temporary status at the time, outranked one potable
and under-ranked the next one in line. There was often a danger
that the visitor would feel just a little affronted or, on the other
hand, that the host's costly and limited sign-equipment would be
misused. In our middle classes a similar situation arises when a
hostess has to decide whether or not to use the good silver, or
which would be the more appropriate to wear, her best afternoon
dress or her plainest evening gown.
I have suggested
that social front can be divided into traditional parts, such as
setting, appearance, and manner, and that (since different routines
may be presented from behind the same front) we may not find a perfect
fit between the specific character of a performance and the general
socialized guise in which it appears to us. These two facts, taken
together, lead one to appreciate that items in the social front
of a particular routine are not only found in the social fronts
of a whole range of routines but also that the whole range of routines
in which one item of sign-equipment is found will differ from the
range of routines in which another item in the same social front
will be found. Thus, a lawyer may talk to a client in a social setting
that he employs only for this purpose (or for a study), but the
suitable clothes he wears on such occasions he will also employ,
with equal suitability, at dinner with colleagues and at the theater
with his wife. Similarly, the prints that hang on his wall and the
carpet on his floor may be found in domestic social establishments.
Of course, in highly ceremonial occasions, setting, manner, and
appearance may all be unique and specific, used only for performances
of a single type of routine, but such exclusive use of sign-equipment
is the exception rather than the rule.
In our own
Anglo-American culture there seems to be two common-sense models
according to which we formulate our conceptions of behavior: the
real, sincere, or honest performance; and the false one that thorough
fabricators assemble for us, whether meant to be taken unseriously,
as in the work of stage actors, or seriously, as in the work of
confidence men. We tend to see real performances as something not
purposely put together at all, being an unintentional product of
the individuals unself-conscious response to the facts in his situation.
And contrived performances we tend to see as something painstakingly
pasted together, one false item on another, since there is no reality
to which the items of behavior could be a direct response. It will
be necessary to see now that these dichotomous conceptions are by
way of being the ideology of honest performers, providing strength
to the show they put on, but a poor analysis of it.
First, let it
be said that there are many individuals who sincerely believe that
the definition of the situation they habitually project is the real
reality. In this report I do not mean to question their proportion
in the population but rather the structural relation of their sincerity
to the performances they offer. If a performance is to come off,
the witnesses by and large must be able to believe that the performers
are sincere. This is the structural place of sincerity in the drama
of events. Performers may be sincere--or be insincere but sincerely
convinced of their own sincerity --but this kind of affection for
one's part is not necessary for its convincing performance. There
are not many French cooks who are really Russian spies, and perhaps
there are not many women who play the part of wife to one man and
mistress to another; but these duplicities do occur, often being
sustained successfully for long periods of time. This suggests that
while persons usually are what they appear to be, such appearances
could still have been managed. There is, then, a statistical relation
between appearances and reality, not an intrinsic or necessary one.
In fact, given the unanticipated threats that play upon a performance,
and given the need (later to be discussed) to maintain solidarity
with one's fellow performers and some distance from the witnesses,
we find that a rigid incapacity to depart from one's inward view
of reality may at times endanger one's performance. Some performances
are carried off successfully with complete dishonesty, others with
complete honesty; but for performances in general neither of these
extremes is essential and neither, perhaps, is dramaturgically advisable.
here is that an honest, sincere, serious performance is less firmly
connected with the solid world than one might first assume. And
this implication will be strengthened if we look again at the distance
usually placed between quite honest performances and quite contrived
ones. In this connection take, for example, the remarkable phenomenon
of stage acting. It does take deep skill, long training, and psychological
capacity to become a good stage actor. But this fact should not
blind us to another one: that almost anyone can quickly learn a
script well enough to give a charitable audience some sense of realness
in what is being contrived before them. And it seems this is so
because ordinary social intercourse is itself put together as a
scene is put together, by the exchange of dramatically inflated
actions, counteractions, and terminating replies. Scripts even in
the hands of unpracticed players can come to life because life itself
is a dramatically enacted thing. All the world is not, of course,
a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn't are not easy to
The recent use
of "psychodrama" as a therapeutic technique illustrates
a further point in this regard. In these psychiatrically staged
scenes patients not only act out parts with some effectiveness,
but employ no script in doing so. Their own past is available to
them in a form which allows them to stage a recapitulation of it.
Apparently a part once played honestly and in earnest leaves the
performer in a position to contrive a showing of it later. Further,
the parts that significant others played to him in the past also
seem to be available, allowing him to switch from being the person
that he was to being the persons that others were for him. This
capacity to switch enacted roles when obliged to do so could have
been predicted; everyone apparently can do it. For in learning to
perform our parts in real life we guide our own productions by not
too consciously maintaining an incipient familiarity with the routine
of those to whom we will address ourselves. And when we come to
be able properly to manage a real routine we are able to do this
in part because of "anticipatory socialization,"  having
already been schooled in the reality that is just coming to be real
When the individual
does move into a new position in society and obtains a new part
to perform, he is not likely to be told in full detail how to conduct
himself, nor will the facts of his new situation press sufficiently
on him from the start to determine his conduct without his further
giving thought to it. Ordinarily he will be given only a few cues,
hints, and stage directions, and it will be assumed that he already
has in his repertoire a large number of bits and pieces of performances
that will be required in the new setting. The individual will already
have a fair idea of what modesty, deference, or righteous indignation
looks like, and can make a pass at playing these bits when necessary.
He may even be able to play out the part of a hypnotic subject 
or commit a "compulsive" crime  on the basis of models
for these activities that he is already familiar with.
performance or a staged confidence game requires a thorough scripting
of the spoken content of the routine; but the vast part involving
"expression given off" is often determined by meager stage
directions. It is expected that the performer of illusions will
already know a good deal about how to manage his voice, his face,
and his body, although he--as well as any person who directs him--
may find it difficult indeed to provide a detailed verbal statement
of this kind of knowledge. And in this, of course, we approach the
situation of the straightforward man in the street. Socialization
may not so much involve a learning of the many specific details
of a single concrete part--often there could not be enough time
or energy for this. What does seem to be required of the individual
is that he learn enough pieces of expression to be able to "fill
in" and manage, more or less, any part that he is likely to
be given. The legitimate performances of everyday life are not "acted"
or "put on" in the sense that the performer knows in advance
just what he is going to do, and does this solely because of the
effect it is likely to have. The expressions it is felt he is giving
off will be especially "inaccessible" to him.  But
as in the case of less legitimate performers, the incapacity of
the ordinary individual to formulate in advance the movements of
his eyes and body does not mean that he will not express himself
through these devices in a way that is dramatized and pre-formed
in his repertoire of actions. In short, we all act better than we
When we watch
a television wrestler gouge, foul, and snarl at his opponent we
are quite ready to see that, in spite of the dust, he is, and knows
he is, merely playing at being the "heavy," and that in
another match he may be given the other role, that of clean-cut
wrestler, and perform this with equal verve and proficiency. We
seem less ready to see, however, that while such details as the
number and character of the falls may be fixed beforehand, the details
of the expressions and movements used do not come from a script
but from command of an idiom, a command that is exercised from moment
to moment with little calculation or forethought.
In reading of
persons in the West Indies who become the "horse" or the
one possessed of a voodoo spirit,  it is enlightening to learn
that the person possessed will be able to provide a correct portrayal
of the god that has entered him because of "the knowledge and
memories accumulated in a life spent visiting congregations of the
cult";  that the person possessed will be in just the right
social relation to those who are watching; that possession occurs
at just the right moment in the ceremonial undertakings, the possessed
one carrying out his ritual obligations to the point of participating
in a kind of skit with persons possessed at the time with other
spirits. But in learning this, it is important to see that this
contextual structuring of the horse's role still allows participants
in the cult to believe that possession is a real thing and that
persons are possessed at random by gods whom they cannot select.
And when we
observe a young American middle class girl playing dumb for the
benefit of her boy friend, we are ready to point to items of guile
and contrivance in her behavior. But like herself and her boy friend,
we accept as an unperformed fact that this performer is a young
girl. But surely here we neglect the greater part of the performance.
It is commonplace to say that different social groupings express
in different ways such attributes as age, sex, territory, and class
status, and that in each case these bare attributes are elaborated
by means of a distinctive complex cultural configuration of proper
ways of conducting oneself. To be a given kind of person, then,
is not merely to possess the required attributes, but also to sustain
the standards of conduct and appearance that one's social grouping
attaches thereto. The unthinking ease with which performers consistently
carry off such standard-maintaining routines does not deny that
a performance has occurred, merely that the participants have been
aware of it.
A status, a
position, a social place is not a material thing, to be possessed
and then displayed; it is a pattern of appropriate conduct, coherent,
embellished, and well articulated. Performed with ease or clumsiness,
awareness or not, guile or good faith, it is none the less something
that must be enacted and portrayed, something that must be realized.
Sartre, here, provides a good illustration:
Let us consider
this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little
too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with
a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly;
his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous
for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying
to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of
automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tightrope-walker
by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium
which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm
and hand. All his behavior seems to us a game. He applies himself
to chaining his movements as if they were mechanisms, the one regulating
the other; his gestures and even his voice seem to be mechanisms;
he gives himself the quickness and pitiless rapidity of things.
He is playing, he is amusing himself. But what is he playing? We
need not watch long before we can explain it: he is playing at being
a waiter in a cafe. There is nothing there to surprise us. The game
is a kind of marking out and investigation. The child plays with
his body in order to explore it, to take inventory of it; the waiter
in the cafe plays with his condition in order to realize it. This
obligation is not different from that which is imposed on all tradesmen.
Their condition is wholly one of ceremony. The public demands of
them that they realize it as a ceremony; there is the dance of the
grocer, of the tailor, of the auctioneer, by which they endeavor
to persuade their clientele that they are nothing but a grocer,
an auctioneer, a tailor. A grocer who dreams is offensive to the
buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer. Society demands
that he limit himself to his function as a grocer, just as the soldier
at attention makes himself into a soldier-thing with a direct regard
which does not see at all, which is not longer meant to see, since
it is the rule and not the interest of the moment which determines
the point he must fix his eyes on (the sight "fixed at ten
paces"). There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man
in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape
from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition.
1. H. E. Dale,
The Higher Civil Service of Great Britain (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1941), p. 50.
2. David Solomon,
"Career Contingencies of Chicago Physicians" (unpublished
Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago,
1952), p. 74.
Macgowan, Sidelights on Chinese Life (Philadelphia: Lippincott,
1908), p. 187.
4. Cf. Kenneth
Burke's comments on the "scene-act-agent ratio," A Grammar
of Motives (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1945), pp. 6-9
J. Kahn, Jr., "Closings and Openings," The New Yorker,
February 13 and 20, 1954.
6. See Mervyn
Jones, "White as a Sweep," The New Statesman and Nation,
December 6, 1952.
7. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, "The Social Organization of Australian
Tribes." Oceania, I, 440.
8. See the thorough
treatment of this problem in Dan C. Lortie, "Doctors without
Patients: The Anesthesiologist, a New Medical Specialty" (unpublished
Master's thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago,
1950). See also Mark Murphy's three part Profile of Dr. Rovenstine,
"Anesthesiologist," The New Yorker, October 25, November
1, and November 8, 1947.
9. In some hospitals
the intern and the medical student perform tasks that are beneath
a doctor and above a nurse. Presumably such tasks do not require
a large amount of experience and practical training, for while this
intermediate status of doctor-in-training is a permanent part of
hospitals, all those who hold it do so temporarily.
1. See R. K.
Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe: The Free Press,
revised and enlarged edition, 1957), p. 265ff.
2. This view
of hypnosis is neatly presented by T. R Sarbin, "Contributions
to Role-Taking Theory. I: Hypnotic Behavior," Psychological
Review, 57, pp. 255-70.
3. See D. R.
Cressey "The Differential Association Theory and Compulsive
Crimes," Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science,
45, pp. 29-40.
4. This concept
derives from T. R. Sarbin, "Role Theory," in Gardner Lindzey,
Handbook of Social Psychology (Cambridge: Addison-Wesley, 1954),
Vol. 1, pp. 235-36.
5. See, for
example, Alfred Metraux, "Dramatic Elements in Ritual Possession,"
Diogenes, 11, pp. 18-36.
6. Ibid., p.
7. Sartre, op.
cit., p. 59.