Goffman’s dramaturgical model for social interaction and face-to-face communication is interesting from the point of view of actor-network theory (ANT) because for ANT social actors are not “individuals,” but networks. Being a network, instead of a unitary, in-divisible, immediately self-transparent subject of knowing and doing challenges the modern understanding of face-to-face communication as an encounter between two people in which the individual social actors communicate directly with each other without being puppets of macro social structures, such as organizations, families, nations, norms, institutions, and so on.
It is an omnipresent assumption of modernity that interaction and face-to-face communication describe a situation in which two people meet each other, exchange opinions, agree to cooperate or not, etc. on the basis of freedom, equality, and, as Habermas would say, “undistorted communication.” Communication is undistorted when no one and no thing interferes with the intentional speech acts of the autonomous rational subjects who are thereby not hindered in forming and expressing their opinions. Two speakers meet, look each other in the eye, and make claims to validity against commonly accepted criteria of truth, truthfulness, correctness, and meaning. This is the modern myth of interaction. And this is also where Goffman is interesting because role theory claims that social interlocutors are like actors on a stage, who never appear as naked subjects, but are replete with costumes, props, scripts, settings, narratives, audience selection mechanisms, and many more “others” that enter into, participate in, become a part of, and condition communication. Were this not so, communication would be without “context,” or as Wittgenstein would say, we wouldn’t know what language-game was being played, and the actors themselves wouldn’t know what to say.