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Front stage back stage illustration: the Irving Goffman metaphor of life as theater illustrated with a couple and a waiter at a fancy restaurant

Front stage, back stage

Most of us behave differently in a flashy restaurant than we do in a job interview or at a funeral. We naturally tune our behaviour to our audience and environment. As part of the metaphor of Life As Theatre with Social Life As a Performance, the famous sociologist Erving Goffman called this front stage behaviour — how we behave when people are watching. In contrast, we may only let our guard down and fully relax when we're by ourselves — here we're back stage.

In a flashy restaurant, wait staff will behave differently in their interactions with guests than they will out back in their break time, and you may find yourself saying a wine you've just tasted is lovely even when you don't think it is. Once you start thinking about front stage and back stage behaviour you'll spot the "performance" of social life throughout almost every daily interaction.

Erving Goffman explains front stage, back stage and more in his classic sociology book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

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