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Performance

Performance

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT

ERVIN GOFFMAN AND DRAMATURGY

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Performance, as understood in the context of the social sciences, is a process by which individuals (actors) display for others (the audience) the meaning of their social situation. During the last decades, the term performance, which originates from the theatrical context, has become extremely prevalent in various fields and disciplines such as art, literature, and the social sciences. In the United States it has even developed into a specific field of scholarly work, with departments specializing in performance studies. However, performance remains a highly contested concept, one that raises disagreements and divides among scholars.

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT

The idea that all social behavior is at least partially a performance is hardly new. It has been with us since the time of the ancient Greeks and the Greek theater, reemerging as a central motif during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. One of the most famous speeches in William Shakespeares play As You Like It reflects this understanding, opening with the words:

All the worlds a stage,
And all the men and women merely
players; They have their exits and their
entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.

This insightful metaphor was developed into an academic subject of study during the second half of the twentieth century, mainly by the fields of anthropology and sociology. The subject of cultural performance (a term coined in 1959 by Milton Singer) became a matter of increased interest among anthropologists during the 1960s. Victor Turner stands out as the anthropologist who probably made the most important contribution to the convergence of culture and theater, with his concept of social drama. This concept, based on the early-twentieth-century work of anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep, expanded the use of drama as a metaphor for nontheatrical cultural manifestations. Working closely with Turner, Richard Schechter, who came from a theatrical background, called for an infusion of theater theory with the work of the social sciences and suggested that traditional drama tends to echo the stages of social drama. Other prominent anthropological contributions to the field were made by Clifford Geertz, who suggested a distinction between deep play and shallow play in performance; and by Dwight Conquergood, who represents a shift from the anthropological preoccupation with the performer and the performative act to a greater consideration of the audience, the reporter, and the social and political implications of the performance.

ERVIN GOFFMAN AND DRAMATURGY

Sociological interest in the application of theatrical concepts to social life emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. While not the first to write on the theatrical aspects of everyday life (Nikolas Evreinoff, for example, published in 1927 a book named The Theatre in Life, and Kenneth Burke has also importantly written on the subject), it is the work of sociologist Erving Goffman that has really paved the way for the study of social performance. In his seminal and still highly influential book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (written in 1956 and reprinted in 1959), Goffman expands many of the ideas discussed by his predecessors. He organizes these ideas into a coherent and well-written dramaturgical analysis of social life in its entirety as a theatrical performance. In this view, we are all actors, playing a role on changing stages in front of various others, who themselves serve simultaneously as our audience and as actors who play a role, to which we are audience. Goffman takes the metaphor of the theater even further. He claims that, as in the theater, social life is guided by scripts and is divided into frontstage, where one performs in the presence of others, and back-stage, where the individual practices his act.

This presentation of things begs a subsequent question: Why are we all acting instead of just being ourselves? To this Goffman offers a clear answer: It is in our interest to perform in a way that guarantees that others will assess us favorably. In other words, we are constantly working on what Goffman calls impression management, in which we seek to influence the collective definition of the situation by convincing others to accept a positive impression of ourselves. Furthermore, according to Goffman, the self (or rather selves) is shaped and constructed through interactions with others and the various roles one plays in these interactions.

While the dramaturgical perspective seems to convey the idea that people are constantly seeking to deceive others, Goffman does not hold such a position. Rather, he believes that there is nothing inherently fake or inauthentic about the roles we play. In fact, in his view these roles are often part of who we really are. Moreover, the acting itself is not always conscious. People convey impressions both knowingly and unknowingly, and the fact they are always acting does not mean that they are always aware of their act (in fact, all too often they are not). Since there is a mutual dependency between actors and audiences, it is the goal of both sides to protect the performance and maintain its integrity, not to expose its failure.

In later writings (mainly in his 1974 book, Frame Analysis ) Goffman expands his analysis, introducing the concept of framesprinciples by which the social world is organized, which constrain and limit the possible range of performances and definitions of the situation. By this Goffman expresses the understanding that people cannot simply choose whatever performance they wish and fashion it according to their whim, but are rather constrained by the social context and their position in the social world.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

The writings of Turner and Goffman still offer the foundations of performance studies in the social sciences. But other scholars have suggested criticisms and extensions to their pioneering analyses. Most notably, Turner and Goffman were both criticized for focusing on the point of view of the actor and neglecting that of the audience (a challenge that was partially met by the work of Dwight Conquergood and of semiotic perspectives, most notably those of Umberto Eco). Goffman was also criticized for not expanding his theory enough to macrosociological domains and to the mass media. Scholarly work has since attempted to confront some of these challenges and expand the usage of performance ideas in the social sciences. (For example, Jeffery Alexander in a 2006 co-edited volume, Social Performance, offers an innovative cultural analysis of social performance.)

Turning to other disciplines, the contribution of Judith Butler emerges as an original break from former work of Goffman and other sociologists. In her well-known book Gender Trouble (1990) and in subsequent writings, Butler, who takes Goffman as her point of departure, uses the ideas of performance to explore the issues of gender and sexuality. Rejecting naturalistic notions of inherent sexual or gendered essences, Butler argues that the distinctions between homosexual and heterosexual and those between female and male are no more than social constructions. Since they are not based on a real essence, these distinctions are always at risk of disruption and subversion and must be maintained through recurring sexual and gender performances. In other words, rather than simply being a girl or a boy, people constantly act these parts and maintain the distinctions through repetitive performances. Unlike Goffman, Butler emphasizes the discursive parts of performance rather than the actions of individuals. For her there is no self or ontological body, which precede the performance. Thus, in her analysis she uses the term performativity, rather than performance.

The ideas of social performance were also stretched to the study of racial identities and constructions (Majors and Billson 1992), to the study of organizational and political behavior, and to other fields. Many of these accounts reveal an important aspect of social performancethrough performance, previously silenced individuals and groups may receive a voice and become visible. As the study of performance continues to evolve, such issues will surely remain at the heart of the debate.

SEE ALSO Anthropology; Anthropology, Linguistic; Communication; Essentialism; Ethnicity; Geertz, Clifford; Gender; Goffman, Erving; Identification, Racial; Identity; Linguistic Turn; Literature; Media; Race; Script Models; Self-Presentation; Sexual Orientation, Social and Economic Consequences; Social Constructionism; Social Constructs; Social Science

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alexander, Jeffrey C., Bernhard Giesen, and Jason L. Mast, eds. 2006. Social Performance: Symbolic Action, Cultural Pragmatics, and Ritual. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Brickell, Chris. 2005. Masculinities, Performativity, and Subversion: A Sociological Reappraisal. Men and Masculinities 8 (July): 2443.

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Carlson, Marvin. 1996. Performance: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.

Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Majors, Richard, and Janet Mancini Billson. 1992. Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America. New York: Lexington Books.

Eran Shor

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performance

per·for·mance / pərˈfôrməns/ • n. 1. an act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment: Don Giovanni had its first performance in 1787. ∎  a person's rendering of a dramatic role, song, or piece of music: Bailey gives a sound performance as the doctor. ∎  [in sing.] inf. a display of exaggerated behavior or a process involving a great deal of unnecessary time and effort; a fuss: he stopped to tie his shoe and seemed to be making quite a performance of it. 2. the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function: the continual performance of a single task reduces a man to the level of a machine. ∎  an action, task, or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed: pay increases are now being linked more closely to performance | a dynamic performance by Davis. ∎  the capabilities of a machine or product, esp. when observed under particular conditions: the hardware is put through tests which assess the performance of the processor. ∎  a vehicle's capacity to gain speed rapidly and move efficiently and safely at high speed. ∎  the extent to which an investment is profitable, esp. in relation to other investments. ∎  (also linguistic performance) Linguistics an individual's use of a language, i.e., what a speaker actually says, including hesitations, false starts, and errors. Often contrasted with competence.

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Performance

PERFORMANCE

The fulfillment or accomplishment of a promise, contract, or other obligation according to its terms.

Part performance entails the completion of some portion of what either party to a contract has agreed to do. With respect to the sale of goods, the payment—or receipt and acceptance of goods—makes an oral sales contract, otherwise unenforceable because of the statute of frauds, enforceable in regard to goods for which payment has been made and accepted or which have been received and accepted.

specific performance is an equitable doctrine that compels a party to execute the agreement according to its terms where monetary damages would be inadequate compensation for the breach of an agreement, as in the case of a sale of land. In regard to the sale of goods, a court orders specific performance only where the goods are unique or in other proper circumstances.

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performance

performanceabeyance, conveyance, purveyance •creance • ambience •irradiance, radiance •expedience, obedience •audience •dalliance, mésalliance •salience •consilience, resilience •emollience • ebullience •convenience, lenience, provenience •impercipience, incipience, percipience •variance • experience •luxuriance, prurience •nescience • omniscience •insouciance • deviance •subservience • transience •alliance, appliance, compliance, defiance, misalliance, neuroscience, reliance, science •allowance •annoyance, clairvoyance, flamboyance •fluence, pursuance •perpetuance • affluence • effluence •mellifluence • confluence •congruence • issuance • continuance •disturbance •attendance, dependence, interdependence, resplendence, superintendence, tendance, transcendence •cadence •antecedence, credence, impedance •riddance • diffidence • confidence •accidence • precedence • dissidence •coincidence, incidence •evidence •improvidence, providence •residence •abidance, guidance, misguidance, subsidence •correspondence, despondence •accordance, concordance, discordance •avoidance, voidance •imprudence, jurisprudence, prudence •impudence • abundance • elegance •arrogance • extravagance •allegiance • indigence •counter-intelligence, intelligence •negligence • diligence • intransigence •exigence •divulgence, effulgence, indulgence, refulgence •convergence, divergence, emergence, insurgence, resurgence, submergence •significance •balance, counterbalance, imbalance, outbalance, valance •parlance • repellence • semblance •bivalence, covalence, surveillance, valence •sibilance • jubilance • vigilance •pestilence • silence • condolence •virulence • ambulance • crapulence •flatulence • feculence • petulance •opulence • fraudulence • corpulence •succulence, truculence •turbulence • violence • redolence •indolence • somnolence • excellence •insolence • nonchalance •benevolence, malevolence •ambivalence, equivalence •Clemence • vehemence •conformance, outperformance, performance •adamance • penance • ordinance •eminence • imminence •dominance, prominence •abstinence • maintenance •continence • countenance •sustenance •appurtenance, impertinence, pertinence •provenance • ordnance • repugnance •ordonnance • immanence •impermanence, permanence •assonance • dissonance • consonance •governance • resonance • threepence •halfpence • sixpence •comeuppance, tuppence, twopence •clarence, transparence •aberrance, deterrence, inherence, Terence •remembrance • entrance •Behrens, forbearance •fragrance • hindrance • recalcitrance •abhorrence, Florence, Lawrence, Lorentz •monstrance •concurrence, co-occurrence, occurrence, recurrence •encumbrance •adherence, appearance, clearance, coherence, interference, perseverance •assurance, durance, endurance, insurance •exuberance, protuberance •preponderance • transference •deference, preference, reference •difference • inference • conference •sufferance • circumference •belligerence • tolerance • ignorance •temperance • utterance • furtherance •irreverence, reverence, severance •deliverance • renascence • absence •acquiescence, adolescence, arborescence, coalescence, convalescence, deliquescence, effervescence, essence, evanescence, excrescence, florescence, fluorescence, incandescence, iridescence, juvenescence, luminescence, obsolescence, opalescence, phosphorescence, pubescence, putrescence, quiescence, quintessence, tumescence •obeisance, Renaissance •puissance •impuissance, reminiscence •beneficence, maleficence •magnificence, munificence •reconnaissance • concupiscence •reticence •licence, license •nonsense •nuisance, translucence •innocence • conversance • sentience •impatience, patience •conscience •repentance, sentence •acceptance • acquaintance •acquittance, admittance, intermittence, pittance, quittance, remittance •assistance, coexistence, consistence, distance, existence, insistence, outdistance, persistence, resistance, subsistence •instance • exorbitance •concomitance •impenitence, penitence •appetence •competence, omnicompetence •inheritance • capacitance • hesitance •Constance • importance • potence •conductance, inductance, reluctance •substance • circumstance •omnipotence • impotence •inadvertence • grievance •irrelevance, relevance •connivance, contrivance •observance • sequence • consequence •subsequence • eloquence •grandiloquence, magniloquence •brilliance • poignance •omnipresence, pleasance, presence •complaisance • malfeasance •incognizance, recognizance •usance • recusance

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