Presentation of Media Practice:
Dramaturgical Analysis of Religious Accounts of Media
Religion and Media Interest Group of
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
2003 Annual Conference
Kansas City, MO, USA
Jin Kyu Park
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Colorado at Boulder
Address: CB 478
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0478, USA
Email: [log in to unmask]
Butch: … I think this is such a challenging time to raise children. There
are so many forces. It really is an interesting and challenging time, let's
put it that way.
Priscilla: They are not forces that are supporting you.
Butch: Yeah, there are all these forces lined up against the family
structure and against the healthy minds and upbringing of young people…and
(to Priscilla) what are they doing? (Refers to the children and sounds of
some media coming from the upstairs.)
Priscilla: They are watching A Loving Heart.
Butch: Well, you might want to go…
Priscilla: I told them they could watch TV. Since they are not really
involved…(Laughs) Speaking of media … (Butch gets up to go check on the
children since Priscilla does not appear to follow his advice to go check
on them herself. As he walks away he is still talking to me.)
Butch: So that is how I can rescue them from… I can't necessarily give them
martial arts training or other stuff but I can give them the advantage of
having their minds. (He points to his head and leaves the room.)
In this excerpt from an interview with a family, Butch, the father, is in
the middle of the interview embarrassedly leaving the living room to check
their two children in the spare room upstairs, five and eight years old
each, if they watch an appropriate TV program. Until this point of the
interview, Butch has several times emphasized that television is not part
of their "main living activity at all." He explained that this is the
reason why they put their only television in the spare room on the second
floor rather than in the living room. In the interview, their effort to
minimize television watching in their lives was the main theme of the
parenting. They argued that their choices of chose the children's current
school is because the school and teachers "really see the impact of it on
the children" and they "limit all screen viewing, including computer and
For Butch, the sound of television coming from the upstairs during the
interview is uncomfortable since it undermines his emphasis on the family's
effort to minimize television watching. Using Erving Goffman's terms in his
dramaturgical analysis of the presentation of self (1959), this scene is a
"performance disruption" caused by an "inopportune intrusion." The father
as a performer of the play in which he plays a role of a 'good father who
is concerned with the impact of television on their children' is
embarrassed because the fact that the children are watching television is
to damage the validity of the look he wants to wear in the play. This scene
also illustrates that the parents' verbal presentation of this family's
media practice might be different from what they actually doing. Goffman
also pointed to the discrepancies between "stage" and "backstage," between
"expression" and "action," and between "appearance" and "actual activity."
This paper attempts to apply Goffman's "dramaturgical approach" to people's
talk about their media practice in the interview setting. Especially, the
interest of this paper lies in how religious meanings and identities of
audiences are employed in their presentation of self in terms of media
practice. The dramaturgical perspective or Goffman's notion of
"presentation of self" appears to provide a useful framework in analyzing
the interview contexts as well as "accounts of media" articulated during
the interview by the media audiences. Hoover (2002) uses "accounts of
media" to refer to the ways in which audiences talk critically and
evaluatively about their use of the media. He notes that people tend to
have a sense of how they should think and behave with regard to the media.
They, in these accounts, "reflexively position themselves historically,
socially, and culturally in relation to media practice" (9). The narratives
offered in the interviews about the media practice often take the form of
how they should or should not do and think about the media. The notion of
"accounts of media" is based on the observation that there might be
differences or contradictions between what they are telling and what they
are doing. In Goffman's terms, it reflects the discrepancy between
expression and action, between appearance and actual activity, between
socialized selves and all-too-human selves.
This paper will use the field data from the ongoing collaborated research,
"Symbolism, Meaning and the New Media @ Home" project, being conducted by
the Center for Mass Media Research at the University of Colorado. The data
are the transcripts of in-depth interviews conducted with members of
several households both collectively and individually. This paper also
attempts to, based on the application of the dramaturgical analysis to the
data, examine the relationship between the audience's religiosity and the
"reading strategies," or the principles they use to interpret and evaluate
the media in general or the media text specifically. I will also develop an
idea about a tentative taxonomy of reading strategy of media texts in
relation to the audience's religious orientation.
In later sections, this paper will, first, conceptually explore the
applicability of Goffmans' self-presentation framework to the media
audience research. Then, it will empirically analyze the interview data
using the framework. Finally, based on the analysis, develop a tentative
typology of reading strategy expressed in people's self-presentations of
accounts of media.
Interpretive Audience Research
The qualitative, or interpretive, research in media studies has developed
its tradition since it adapted the methodology of anthropology. Many
studies using the qualitative methodology employ the term "ethnography" or
"ethnographic" to describe the properties they share with the
anthropological methodology (e.g., Moores 1993). Thickness of description,
a key attribute of ethnography (Geertz 1973), is often referred to as the
most important quality of the qualitative research in media studies.
However, due to the private nature of the media practice, the qualitative
research has limitations to be a "real" ethnography in a more traditional
sense implying a study in which a researcher, for a good amount of time,
participates in a culture and is engaged with the cultural scene using
multiple interpretive techniques in order to get a holistic description of
The audience reception has been the most significant new focus in media
studies, particularly in television studies, since the 1980s (Corner 1999).
Among several methods used in qualitative or ethnographic approach, the
method of in-depth interviews is most frequently used in the study of media
audience. The basic assumption of this method is that the creator of
meaning of the cultural text is not the text itself but the audience. Thus,
the basic procedure in reception study "consists of questioning people who
have seen or read a media text about their thoughts, perceptions,
inferences, and feelings" (Lindlof 1995:55). Its main focus is on the
meaning-making process in the text-audience interaction.
This paper's concern is with the interpretation of research data gathered
through interviews with audiences. It is often suggested in the process of
analysis of qualitative data that the researcher should wait until 'the
data speak themselves' or until 'a theme emerges itself from the data.' In
other words, the researcher is suggested to interpret the data without any
theoretical assumptions or biases. Although this suggestion is pretty
valuable in maximizing the benefits of the inductive nature of the
qualitative data analysis, it could lead the analysis too much dependent on
the researcher's heuristic insights. Indeed, the researcher as a subjective
social being cannot do any analysis in a theoretical vacuum. Therefore, I
would argue that the researcher needs an analytical framework for analysis
of the data, especially the interview data, which would be based on the
theoretical considerations of the interviewer, the interviewee, and the
interview setting. In this sense, Goffman's theory of self-presentation is
useful for the researcher to use as an analytical framework for the reading
the interview data, which is to be examined in the next section.
Applicability of Goffman's Self-Presentation to Media Audience Research
The dramaturgical perspective of Goffman (1959) is derived from the
observation that people tend to present themselves for the management of
the impression given to the others in the world of social interaction. He
observes that when an individual appears before others his actions will
influence the definition of the situation that they come to have. Here, the
definition of the situation is the key element, according to which each
participant act and behave. Through the process of mutual interaction, each
participant will contribute to an agreement of a single definition of the
This control is achieved largely by influencing the definition of the
situation which the others come to formulate, and he can influence this
definition by expressing himself in such a way as to give them the kind of
impression that will lead them to act voluntarily in accordance with his
own plan (Goffman 1959:4).
Based on this observation, he views the social interaction between people
employing the analogy with drama. He employs such terms as "performance,"
"performer," "audience," "stage," "backstage," and "setting" to explain the
intended as well as unintended impression management of the participants in
the social scene. Thus, the acts of each participant are seen as
performances on the stage to manage the impressions they want to give to
In fact, Goffman's dramaturgical framework has been related, in some
sense, to the audience research in media studies. For his theoretical
position, along with that of other theorists like G.H. Mead, J. Dewey, H.
Blumer, and R. Park, to name a few, contributes the development of the
field, Symbolic Interactionism, of which the qualitative audience research
tradition follows its emphases on self, communication, signification, the
social interaction, and the negotiated process. However, the specific
application of Goffman's framework and his notion of self-presentation into
the audience research has not been widely made.
One of the benefits of the dramaturgical perspective in the audience
research is that it can highlight the interview setting in which the
interviewer and the interviewee interact with each other. This approach is
useful considering the fact that the discourse uttered by the interviewer
in the interview setting is not merely "true" accounts of his or her
practice. Rather, it is to be understood as a mode of presentation by the
interviewee to the interviewer as a social being. The interviewee should be
seen to do a performance before the interviewer as his/her audience. In
this setting, the social status of the interviewer is the most important
element for the interviewee to consider, for the definition of the
situation and for the decision of what role should he/she performs. In our
interview data, the interviewees seem to be aware of the fact that they
talk about their media use to the interviewer who represents academia as a
doctoral student in media studies at a prominent university. This
awareness tends to determine their definition of the situation and,
further, the modes of presentation. This tendency is recognized by an
interviewer of our research in his introduction of an interview transcript.
In fact, it occurs to me that after virtually every interview, and often
during the interview, interviewees will often make comments such as, "I
know this isn't that interesting, but …," or "Does that help you out?," or
"Did we give you what you were looking for?" There are also frequent
references to a 'failure' (which paradoxically seems to implicitly imply
some kind of success in establishing the uniqueness of the family) of sorts
of the part of the interviewees inasmuch as they are not your "typical" or
Based on the definition of the interview situation, the interviewee
presents himself/herself by negotiating a position between the socially
desirable accounts regarding the media practice and his/her actual
practice. This is a process in which one legitimates oneself by positioning
oneself at a place in the culture, which to the one is socially acceptable.
Therefore, this situation is, to the interviewee, related to the process of
identifying oneself in the social and cultural landscape.
Goffman's notion of self-presentation is relevant in the audience research
since it does not see the performance just as a pretension or imitation of
a role but as an 'subjective' expression resulted from the 'objective'
socialization. Goffman notes on this aspect: "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" (1959:73).
From this perspective, the media audience is seen as an active subject who
participates in the process of negotiation of his/her social and cultural
identity rather than an passive object whose identity is just a reflection
of one's social and cultural position. Especially, the issue around
religious identity and belief in relation to the media practice, in which
this paper is interested, is required to approve the autonomy of the
subject and the validity of the subject's statements. A sociologist and
anthropologist Mary Douglas (1982) suggested a new theoretical approach to
religious sociology protesting against "passive voice theories," which
treat the human agent as a "passive arena in which impersonal forces are
alleged to contend" (1). She argued that an "active voice theory" is
necessary in the study of religion, which traces "how people work their
institutions as well as create the conditions in which their beliefs get
However, Goffman's framework has some limitations to be applied to the
audience research. The most important one is that it does not fully explain
what is the motivation of people's dramaturgical performance. Although
Goffman (1959) pointed out that people tend to perform according to the
general system of social stratification, he did not provide a clarification
on the issue. He is rather open to the variability of motivations:
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
One of the important points to be made for the application of the
dramaturgical approach is to answer the question, who sets the rule or who
writes the script of the drama? For this question, Pierre Bourdieu's theory
of distinction (1984) might be useful to explain the motivation of people's
dramaturgical performance. Bourdieu argued that "habitus" or dispositions
of members of a certain class or a certain fraction of a class are
manifested in the different tastes of cultural practices. He observed that
cultural practices such as food, aesthetics, popular cultural consumption,
and manners are constituted by the practitioner's social positions in class
relations. He also pointed out that these positions are not merely a
reflection of the distribution of economic capital but are the result of
the dynamic interaction among economic, educational, social, and cultural
Unfortunately, or interestingly, Bourdieu did not include religious
practices or religious orientations in his cultural practice that is
determined by the class relations. It might be suggested that it is
because, as Douglas argued (1982), religious beliefs would not be explained
by the objective or external forces alone. I would like to employ Wade
Clark Roof's (1999) concept of "spiritual capital" as a determinant of
religious practices. Roof uses the concept in the following context:
Revitalizing activity of this sort will rely not just on the strength of
custom, tradition, or institution, but on people's own conviction and
interiority – perhaps the most valuable form of "spiritual capital" of all.
Should this common ground lead to more serious dialogue between religious
and spiritual traditions, that may bear fruit of its own (312).
Here, his concept of spiritual capital includes both external forces such
as custom, tradition, or institution, and human agency such as individual's
own conviction or interiority. In other words, spiritual capital as a
motivation of the performance regarding religion or as a creator of the
script of the drama bears both a structure determining the individual's
performance and a room for freedom to be given to the individual. Thus, it
is consistent with Symbolic Interactionism's emphasis on the self as
In sum, this section has argued that Goffman's dramaturgical perspective
is useful for the analysis of interview data in the audience research.
Furthermore, it is helpful to inquire into the relationship between the
audience's religious orientation and their media practice. It has also
examined that the concept of spiritual capital would provide a useful
conceptual tool to explain the motivation of the people's performance
regarding religious practices. The next section will show an analysis of
interview data by employing the dramaturgical perspective and will explain
the audience's presentation of self in terms of multiple forms of capital.
Dramaturgical Analysis of accounts of media
This section discusses the analysis of the data gathered from the
interviews with the members of four families (the Mueller's; the Baylor's;
the Sealy's; and the Castelo's). In the interviews, the family members were
asked to talk about their media practice, their religious practice, and the
relationship between their media practice and religious beliefs. The
analysis was conducted on the basis of an idea that a dramaturgical
analysis of accounts of media would take four levels of analysis. First,
the principal theme of the accounts is to be identified. This theme
recurring from the accounts of media in the family is related to what the
family wants to present in the interview and what role the members (usually
parents) try to play for the presentation. Second, how they position
themselves in the U.S. cultural and religious landscape is also identified.
As the dramaturgical perspective would assume, a conception of oneself or
one's identity is an important part of the definition of the situation
(Goffman 1959:242). Here, for the categorization of the religious identity,
I employed Roof's typology (1999) of the religious identity in the
contemporary U.S. religious landscape, consisting of five categories
(Born-Again Christians; Mainstream Believers; Dogmatists; Spiritual
Seekers; and Secularists). Third, the motivation of their performances of
presentation is examined. For this, not attempting to identify a single
cause of the presentation, I would rather deal with multiple forms of
capital that are addressed by Bourdieu and also with Roof's notion of
spiritual capital. Finally, the modes of reading strategy are also
identified. Reading strategy is a term that I devise to categorize the ways
in which people use to interpret the media text in relation to their
religious as well as spiritual identity. In other words, these strategies
refer to different modes of the relations between the audience's religious
beliefs and their interpretation or evaluation of the media text.
Tentatively, four different strategies are categorized. Scriptural reading
is to interpret of the media text through the lens of one's religious
belief. Negotiated reading is to negotiate a place between one's religious
belief and cultural meanings ascribed in the media text. Constructive
reading is to actively adopt or absorb cultural meanings in the media text
for the construction of one's religious beliefs. Finally, secularist
reading refers to the case in which there is no relationship between one's
religious beliefs and the interpretation of the media text. Although thick
descriptions are required to show the whole contexts of the families'
everyday lives, the analysis of the interview data of the four families is
summarized below for the purpose of comparison.
The Mueller family (David, Kathy, Cody, Reese, and Brian) is white Mormon
family living in Fort Collins, CO. Although they live in a mobile home,
they are not typical mobile home residents. David, the father, 30 years
old, is an irrigation engineer with an engineering bachelor's degree.
Kathy, the mother, 27 years old, is a homemaker with an associate's degree
in special and elementary education. She plans to return to work after
raising her three kids. The income of this household is in the range of
$35-70,000. David is now also getting a 'practicing engineering' license,
which is equivalent to a mater's degree.
This family is very committed to church activities. David served for three
years and a half as the head of his age group in the church. While he
sticks to his Mormon religious faith, it is interesting that he emphasizes
the church's core belief that "what we know now isn't the end." He often
employs the languages like "being taught" and "learn" during the interview.
They have 1 TV with basic cable, 1 VCR, 1 phone, 1 Gameboy, and 1 Pentium
100 computer with modem. The rules for the media of this family are
characterized by their notion of "pick and choose." They believe that "if
you do pick and choose, it doesn't detract from your beliefs." Computer is
a big part of this family. The young couples send emails to each other and
even the four-year-old son, Reese, plays games on the Internet and sends
emails to his friends with the mom's help. David uses computer 8-9 hours a
day at work only. They also use computer to shop airline tickets online or
to search "camcorder models and compare" prices. They often use the
Internet to get spiritual resources such as talk preparation type of
materials and teaching materials from the church's "extensive amount of web
The recurrent theme in the presentation of the accounts of media in this
family is that they are "pick and choose what to watch." Kathy notes, "We
and the kids don't watch a whole lot … there's certain shows that they like
to watch that we allow to watch, and that's about the schedule of TV."
While in the interview there are a larger number of references of TV
program compared to other families (which might be a "performance
disruption" to Goffman), they seem to want to present themselves as being
selective in terms of the media use.
They have characteristics of Dogmatists of Roof's categories. Roof (1999)
describes Dogmatists as being concerned with the external forms of
religions; being long-time loyal commitment to the church; and having
worshipping community as a center of social network. He also points out
that Dogmatists usually have clear moral values, which is reflected in this
family's reading strategy. The values are the principle based on which they
"pick and choose":
Interviewer: I guess I started by asking how media interact with your
David: I mean, I have my core values and I mean I judge whatever comes, you
know, based on those values. Um, it's pretty much I know what's right for
me and I know what's wrong for me and some things come along and you make
the judgment and the decision, you know…
Here, what David wants to perform is the character who has already
established religious values and uses those values when he encounters
popular cultural texts. For this kind of character, the media sphere is the
field to exercise his/her religiosity rather than to construct it. I would
call this mode of strategy as "scriptural reading" in that the claimed
interpretation of the media text is claimed to be made through the lens of
one's already established religious beliefs.
The Baylor family (Bill, Donna, John, Boyd, Caleb, and Alan) lives in a
two-bedroom, one-level house of 1300 square feet in Aurora, CO. The
Baylor's are a "blended" family. Caleb, 15, is Donna's biological son while
17 year-old John, 16 year-old Boyd, and 15 year-old Alan are Bill's
biological sons. Donna and Bill have been married about 10 years. Bill is a
registered nurse with an associate's degree and Donna is a homemaker with a
high school diploma and a home school teacher for the children. They say
that their dissatisfaction with the quality of the schools in their area
motivated them to begin home schooling for the children. The annual income
of this family with seven members is just slightly over $35,000.
They have a 13-inch TV with a web TV connection, which constitutes this
family's Internet access. They also have two very old computers used just
for word processing. Donna identifies herself as Presbyterian Evangelical.
She became involved in the religion by way of her ex-husband. Bill, who,
used to be a Mormon, has attended Donna's church for a decade, officially
became Presbyterian one and a half years ago. The whole family regularly
The most interesting feature in this family is that Donna holds the place
of the leader of this family. Although she has less educational capital
than Bill and does not have a job, it seems clear that she is the one who
makes the family rules including media policies. Her authority appears to
come from her spiritual capital. Bill frequently admits during the
interview that "Donna is stronger than" him and he is "not as strong as she
is" in terms of "spirituality." The spiritual leadership is also exercised
by her as the children's home school teacher. The media are an important
part in their home schooling and her approach to the media determines the
family members' media use. Bill says about the family's pretty strict media
rules: "I've actually adhered to Donna's rules because I know the kids."
The theme in Donna's accounts of media, especially of TV, is expressed in
her following remarks: "I'm really bad about television. I think most of
it's pretty much garbage. If I turn it on and watch a couple minutes of a
show and it's just yucky. I won't even go back and look at it." And the
anti-television accounts are strongly related to her religiosity. In the
interview, she relates the media practice to her "spiritual instinct:"
Donna: If I run across something, I try and read through it and I basically
go on instinct. And I feel like my instincts are, especially if I pursue
them in that manner, are God led. So I feel like there's going to be some
kind of leading in either direction. … But if you're looking for religious
guidance or something like that you've gotta be a little bit more choosy
about your sources.
Donna's reading strategy sounds very similar to that of the Mueller family.
The character she performs is the one whose religious values lead her
accounts of media.
However, while Bill presents himself as to follow Donna's "strong
spirituality," his reading strategy is somewhat different from Donna's. In
his individual interview, which has a different "setting" in terms of
play in which he performs, his reading strategy is more close to
Interviewer: What do you do when you come across sites, TV programs,
newspaper articles, etc. that advocate beliefs that are different than yours?
Bill: Ah, read them for the knowledge. See how different people believe
'cause I have in my life switched major religions. So, in doing so I'm very
open, and talking to people also. Like if I see an article. Right now, the
guy that's the atheist that wants God taken out of the Pledge of
Allegiance, he was on TV, I think it was last month. Because I was flipping
through channels. So I paused for a few minutes just to see what his view
was. And it was quite interesting, what his view was. I only caught it for
two, or three minutes.
Unlike Donna, he does not interpret the media text based on his established
religious beliefs. Rather, he performs a character who approaches the
cultural text with "more open" attitude. This mode of the relationship
between religious beliefs and cultural consumption is called here
"constructive strategy." For in this process of cultural consumption, this
character tries to construct own religious meanings and values out of the
While Donna has characteristics to be categorized as a Dogmatist, who is
away from the secular culture, Bill tends to show his religiosity more
close to a Born-again Christian in Roof's term. Roof (1999) characterizes
this subgroup by their seeking for personal faith; being open to other
religious ideas; having specific redemptive experiences; and discovery
of "real self." Because of his spiritual journey, Bill is more sensitive
and open to other forms of religious beliefs and values. This spirituality
is reflected in his performance of accounts of media.
The Sealy family (Megan and Dell) lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Fort
Collins, CO. Megan, 40 years old, is a single mother who graduated from a
university with a bachelor's degree in horticulture two years ago. Now she
works as a horticulturist. The annual income is in the range of $25-35,000.
Dell, 17 years old, was a high school junior but recently dropped out of
school. Dell has worked a couple of temporary jobs since dropping out of
school. But, for the most part, he has spent the vast majority of his time
watching MTV and chatting with his friends online. They have two TVs both
with cables in the living room and in Dell's room. They are Caucasian.
Megan now attends a Southern Baptist church finishing her religious journey
from Catholic to Presbyterian and to Southern Baptist church. She
participates in a single's group in the church as her "support system."
Dell does not go to church.
This family's recurrent theme of accounts of media is "we watch too much
TV." Megan and Dell criticize each other on this aspect. Megan often leaves
the TV on as "background noise" to help mitigate a medical condition that
she describes as tinitis. According to Megan, Dell is "glued to MTV." In
the family interview, the two sarcastically argue with each other:
Megan: (Laughing) Both of us watch too much TV. We've talked about that
before. And one of my goals is, I'm getting a bike so that I can bike to
work and bike around and get out of the house. So I'm not sitting in front
of the TV all the time.
Dell: I don't watch as much TV as I used to. I used to. I used to watch it
Interviewer: And, so, what are you doing instead?
Megan: (Laughing while she says it) Watching MTV.
The accounts of media are based on their assumption of "TV is bad."
Therefore they need "a bike" to get away from TV or they "do not watch now
as much as they used to." Their media practice of "watching too much TV" is
legitimated by positioning themselves as "typical" audiences in the society:
Interviewer: How do you think other people would describe your approach to
Megan: Pretty typical.
Dell: Hmmm… nerdish.
Interviewer: That was a pretty disparate response, typical and the way to
nerdish. Can you elaborate?
Megan: Ah, I don't know. I guess the people that I associate with, we tend
to watch some of the same shows and stuff and so I just consider it typical
that we're all watching the same kind of TV. … We like to watch the same
shows and stuff. So I guess that's why I consider it typical, because I
haven't met anybody, besides my son, that are glued to MTV 24 hours a day.
Dell: That's because you don't know very many teen people.
Megan: (Laughing) That must be it!
Interviewer: So, are most teens glued to MTV?
Dell: The music videos. Like me and my friend, Maurice, who moved back to
Brazil, we used to watch it a lot. Just hang out and watch MTV and stuff.
The relationship between Megan and Dell presented in the family interview
is very interesting. The two do not seem to be a team to cooperate a
coordinated performance in the play. Rather one tries to reveal the other's
"reality" that is discrepant with the performance in the interview.
This difference is also seen in their religious identities and,
accordingly, reading strategies. While Dell is a Secularist with no
involvement in religion, Megan's identity is close to Born-again Christian
in that she emphasizes the personal relationship with Jesus, and that she
makes a distinction between religious and spiritual. She claims that her
choice of this church is not because it is a Southern Baptist church but it
is "more God's love." Roof (1999) points to this aspect that, to Born-again
Christians, what they believe is more important than where they belong.
This is clearly shown in her performance:
Interviewer: I was a little bit confused about your (religious) path.
You're now a Southern Baptist, right?
Megan: Well (hesitates a little) I go to that church. You know, I hate
Megan: But the premise is I like being in a church like that is biblically
based. A lot of Southern Baptist is hell and damnation but this is more
God's love. So to me that's really important I just believe what the bible
This religious identity not depending on religious institutions is also
reflected in her reading strategy. Her accounts of media try to juxtapose
her own religiosity and that of the church:
Interviewer: Do you think there's anything that you watch on TV that maybe
your church would look differently than you do?
Megan: Sometimes, yeah.
Interviewer: Such as?
Megan: Such as, ah (pause). … I don't watch a lot of reality shows but if I
do there's a personal reason for watching it. Every once in awhile I'll
turn on Fear Factor and it'll be kind of cool. You know, where people have
to swim with alligators and things like that. The church would just be
like, "That's of the world. It's not of the Bible." Sometimes my foot is in
the world and, I mean, I still have a real basic moral standard. I don't
cross those lines. The world is a big place and so sometimes my human
nature gets the best of me. And I've been in churches where they've just
really drawn the line, what was that thing? Oh, when the Southern Baptist
was boycotting Disney. I don't' remember the reason. They mentioned
something at church. You know, I just didn't see that as being an issue.
Sometimes my values are different that the church's. But I think our values
are based on our experiences. My experience isn't going to be the same as
someone who has been raised on hell and damnation.
This is an example of "negotiated reading" in that she juxtaposes her
religious beliefs and cultural values and tries to find a place in between.
She seems to play a character who negotiates a place between the religious
beliefs and the cultural meanings ascribed in the media text.
The Castelo family (Butch, Priscilla, Leah, and Corey), we have met briefly
in the introduction section, lives in a spacious, two-story home in a
suburban neighborhood in Lafayette, CO. approximately 5-7 years. Their
annual income is over $80.000. The home has four bedrooms and 2.5 baths. In
the living room, a futon cushion on the floor without a frame and a
Japanese-style low table are all the furniture the room has. This table is
also used as the family's dining table. They lived in Japan for four years
and relished the experience so much that the Japanese culture and Buddhism
have become integral to their lives.
Butch, 35 years old, the father, is Hispanic and a salesman for an
international communications corporation. Priscilla, 39 years old, the
mother, is Italian and a stay-at-home mom with a bachelor's degree who
works part-time jobs on occasion. Both were raised Catholic and both have
turned away from the Church and embraced Buddhism. Yet, there is a sense
that this is a lifestyle, not necessarily a religion and both agree that
they have not quite found the "right" church or religion for them.
The theme of this family's presentation is "TV is not part of our daily
lives." Their putting TV in the spare room instead of the living room is
explained by this statement. This theme is supported by another theme,
"We're different from them," which positions themselves at a distinguished
place in the society. This negative approach to TV is also the central
principle for their parenting. They chose the kid's school because they
agree with their concern about the "screen viewing."
Priscilla: Sometimes they (the children) want to watch kids shows before
school but no TV in the morning because we will be later than we already
always are (Laughs). But in general, our overall rule, always try to find
something else to do besides watching TV. Play, instead of watching kids'
shows, or go for a walk instead of watching a video. So, we try to take the
focus elsewhere because the current in our culture is to always be in front
of the TV or on the computer. And, it is very hard when we are with other
families in their homes because they tend to be really plugged into the
television thing, or videos.
Their performance tends to be better explained by their social status than
any other element. The whole lifestyle of this family reflects their way of
presenting the position of the upper middle class. The religiosity of this
family is expressed in the interview as a "new age spirituality." Although
they identify themselves as Buddhists they do not belong to any Buddhist
institutions. Moreover, as Priscilla puts, it is more a "philosophy" than a
religion. They like it because it is a "calming of the mind" and it is
"stilling the mind." In Roof's term, they are close to spiritual seekers in
that they have hostile attitude toward religion and that they focus on
spiritual consciousness. To them, Buddhism is not a religion but an
alternative spirituality, which is different from the Western Christian
(average) culture. This family seems to legitimate their social position
through alternative lifestyles. Their interest in the Japanese culture is
also a manifestation of this effort. The presentation of accounts of media
shows that this spiritual quest leads their media practice:
Interviewer: While you mention that, I wondered if your media policies as
a family are related to other aspects of your lifestyle such as diet, religion?
Butch: Oh, yes (he smiles and nods). These things are very related. Our
spiritual beliefs have led us to reduce the noise in our external and
internal environments and the media is definitely a part of that. We are
macrobiotic. We try to eat slow and make meal times a time of connection.
We live in an area that supports that way of being. The kids' school, of
course, is a part of that lifestyle choice as well.
The reading strategy of this family appears to be two-fold. The negative
attitude clearly derives from their quest for alternative spirituality,
which shows a quality of scriptural reading. However, interestingly, if
they encounter the media text that they like, they actively make spiritual
meanings out of it, which is related to constructive reading:
Interviewer: How about movies as a kid?
Butcher: I enjoyed Star Wars and, honestly, even the Terminator movie
stands as one of my favorite films and not necessarily because, well, I
love the action, the special effects and the story line … what it tells you
about your children and the challenge that lie ahead. That is pretty
inspirational, that movie at the end. It is almost tear-jerking when the
mother is in the desert and she is pregnant and she is determined to help
her baby, her unborn child to thrive and survive in what she know would be
a difficult situation in the future…
Discussion and Conclusion
Goffman's dramaturgical perspective or his notion of self-presentation can
be usefully applied to the analysis of interview data in the audience
reception research. It can highlight the interview setting in which the
interviewer and the interviewee interact with each other. It is also
helpful to inquire into the relationship between the audience's religious
orientation and their media practice.
This dramaturgical perspective would be relevantly used in media audience
research in that it might provide a conceptual instrument to solve the
dilemma of the field between determinism and culturalism. It opens the
possibilities of the nature of the script both being determined as a result
of the socialization of which external forces such as class relations or
institutional authorities exert power, and it being created by the
individual who has a freedom to creatively perform a character. However,
the most beneficial point of the dramaturgical framework is that it can
negotiate those two extremes in the analysis of the audience's presentation
Figure 1. Roof's typology of spiritual and religious identity
Based on the dramaturgical analysis, I categorize some modes of reading
strategies that people use to perform regarding the relationship between
their religious beliefs and the media practice. Those strategies can be
compared with Roof's typology of the religious subgroups in the U.S.
society. As the figure 1 illustrates, he uses two dimensions of identity
and, according to the interaction of the two, distinguish the subgroups.
The most important aspect in this typology is that it does not categorize
people depending solely on religious institutions or denominations. It
takes the reflexive spiritual identity as well as other religious practices
into consideration for the categorization.
I adopt this model and modify it for a model of reading strategies. The
new model concerns with institutional and cultural involvements in religion
instead of religious, spiritual identity. The two dimensions of involvement
are derived from Roof's notion of spiritual capital. As we saw earlier, he
includes in the notion the aspect of personal commitment of religion, which
can be estimated in terms of institutional and non-institutional (cultural)
involvements. The modes of reading strategy are categorized according to
the interaction of the degree of each dimension.
Cultural Involvement in Religion
Figure 2. Relationship between reading strategy and religious involvement
For example, scriptural reading is used by those who perform a character
with a high institutional involvement but a low cultural involvement. On
the other hand, constructive reading is to be seen from the character with
an opposite interaction. The figure 2 shows that moralist reading is
overarching through the other four strategies. As Goffman noted (1959:13),
any performance has a distinctive moral character. In the interviews, most
of the accounts of media take the moralist reading, which interprets the
cultural text based on one's morality.
I have to admit that this model is very rudimentary in quality and, more
importantly, I do not try to rigorously map people's accounts of media
according to this model. Rather, it would be useful a starting point to
understand how people's religious beliefs and values are interconnected
with their interpretation of the media text.
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Lindolf, T.R. 1995. Qualitative Communication Research Methods. Thousand
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Peck, J. 2002. The Oprah Effect: Texts, Readers, and the Dialectic of
Signification. Communication Review 5:143-178.
Roof, W.C. 1999. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of
American Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
This paper attempts to apply Erving Goffman's "dramaturgical approach" to
the analysis of the interview contexts as well as "accounts of media"
articulated during the interview by the media audience. Especially, the
interest of this paper lies in how religious meanings and identities of
audiences are employed in their presentation of self in terms of media
practice. Based on the dramaturgical analysis of field data, this paper
suggests several modes of reading strategies that people use to perform
regarding the relationship between religious beliefs and media practice:
Scriptural, Negotiated, Constructivist, Moralist, and Secular Reading.
Requested AV: Projection system for Power Point Presentation
 For more on the relationship between Symbolic Interactionism and the
audience research, see Denzin (1992).
 In our project, interviews are conducted by doctoral student team
 This is noted by Christof Demont-Heinrich in his transcript of the
Baylor family interview.
 The interviews of this family were conducted by Joe Champ.
 The interviews of this family were conducted by Christof Demont-Heinrich.
 In our research project, interviews are conducted at two stages:
family interview with all the members and individual interview with each
 In Roof's term, Born-again Christians are differently used from its
conventional usage. He distinguishes Born-again Christians from Christian
fundamentalists or dogmatists in that this category has more open attitudes
towards other religious ideas than fundamentalists.
 The interviews of this family were conducted by Christof Demont-Heinrich.
 The interviews of this family were conducted by Monica Emirich.
 For More on this dilemma in the media studies, see Peck (2002).
 This figure is simplified from Roof's original figure (1999:178).