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The Concept of Performance in Human Behaviour Report (Assessment)

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Performance is defined as a contested concept. Goffman (1959) describes performance as “reference to all the activity of an individual that occur during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers”. This activity has some influence on the observers.

Performance could also refer to aesthetic performance or art practice also known as performing arts. “This is used to describe a performance by someone or an artist” (Schmitt, 2010, p.367). This may also describe in other terms a whole show or a particular genre also known as performance art.

Other occurrences well suited to performance definition but outside the aesthetic bracket would include sports for example where we describe an athlete’s performance. Similarly while focusing on the management arena we may talk about organizational performance indicators or further still basing on science and technology we can perform an experiment and take measurement of certain parameters.

Performance as a term will therefore broadly encompass a range of human behaviour of a particular kind. This behaviour will either be extra daily, aesthetic or cultural. Broadening the classification results in two kinds of performances under everyday performance or aesthetic, cultural or extra daily performance.

The extra daily , aesthetic and cultural performance may typically cover the likes of operas, films, circus, theatre, ceremonies, rituals, specific events such as weddings, trials; any behaviour outside of the daily behaviour. It is significant to note that aesthetic, cultural or extra daily performances are not mutually exclusive.

Bateson and Goffman attempted to define the everyday performance through the frame theory. It can be understood from their approach that various aspects of social life are framed and participants act appropriately within each of these frames.

While defining relationships among living organisms Bateson made an attempt to categorize seriousness and play through what he termed metacommunicative mechanism. These mechanisms are meant to define how specific actions are to be understood in every day performance. Bateson concludes that every metacommunicative message describes a frame. Goffman was the initiator of the frame idea.

In the light of this understanding Goffman asserts that someone creates a conceptual frame enabling their behaviour to be viewed by an audience as a performance. “Based on this understanding the relationship between everyday and extra daily performance can be described as a continuum” (Schmit, 2004, p.55). The implication is that every day unmarked performance is part of the big picture that is about the extra daily.

Performance in anthropological, sociological and psychological spheres is concerned more with context other than specific activities by the performer.

Fitzpatrick in quoting Bauman’s definition of performance points to the fact that there is the assumption of responsibility to an audience to whom is a display of communicative competence.

According to Bauman (1984) “competence is based on knowledge and the ability to speak in socially appropriate ways” (p.9). Fitzpatrick himself defines performance by pinpointing three specific elements that are constituents of the Fitzpatrick performance triangle. The elements are personal resources, role in a particular context of the situation and specific goals.

Bauman’s understanding of performance can be mapped to Fitzpatrick’s triangle in the three areas where Bauman’s assumption of responsibility aspect points to Fitzpatrick’s acceptance of role in the context situation.

While Fitzpatrick mentions goals aims and derived outcomes, these concur with Bauman’s display of performative competence. “This competence according to Bauman rests on the knowledge and ability to speak in socially appropriate ways which according to Fitzpatrick relates to the deployment of personal resources” (Henke, 2002, p. 34).

Defining the Fitzpatrick terms

Accordingly Fitzpatrick views performance in terms of the deployment of personal resources, goals, aims and desired outcome and acceptance of role in context of situation (Fitzpatrick, 1995). In a broader sense these personal resources would be performing artists in the Goffman frames. The personal resource refers to the entities that will contribute to the everyday or extra daily performance. The particulate behaviour as defined by Bateson defines the role in a particular context or situation.

The objective of this particular behaviour is to be able to display performative competence which are actually the goals, aims or derived outcomes of the performance. Fitzpatrick’s triangle visually aids in effectively contextualizing lectures with performance being the central focus. To effectively gauge a lecture the performance of the performer or personal resource in this case the lecturer is vital. This largely depends on competency, the comprehension and the capability to speak in socially suitable ways.

On the other hand lectures are effective and the lecturers are performing if there is a program and an outline of desired outcomes or results that can define the levels of performance in other words Bauman defines these as display of performative competence. To a large extend the success in terms of performance for a lecture depends on how well that lecture has attained the goals, aims and desired outcomes. That largely depends on the lecturer’s ability to display performative competence.

Fitzpatrick’s triangle addresses a third and important aspect within the performance context. Basing on the lectures, the personal resource or the performer who in this context is the lecturer can only perform if they have acceptance from the audience or what Fitzpatrick terms as acceptance of role in context of the situation. In delivering the lecture the performer is seen to perform if they have a responsibility to an audience. This is the particular role in a particular context or situation.


Performance studies remains a broad subject today and covers a number of disciplines most of which borrow from the tenets of the scholars such as Fitzpatrick who have laid out a thorough foundation in performance studies. Being the broad aspect it is performance studies derivatives would include the fields such as anthropology, sociology, drama and theatre studies linguistics among others.

Contributions Austin a speech act theorist serves to give us another dimension to understanding performance where according to him a statement can assert something what he calls the constantive as well as do something what he terms performative. With this idea has arisen performativity which is an attempt at defining the processes taking place around the world in terms of language especially so speech acts and how these acts affect the listener.

What has resulted is an important view of the world in terms of performance a term referred to as performativity.

Reference List

Baumann, R., 1984. Verbal Art as Performance. Illinois: Waveland Press.

Fitzpatrick, T., 1995. The Relationship of Oral and Literate Performance Process in the Commedia Dell’Arte: Beyond the Improvisation / Memorization Divide. New York: Edwin Mellen Press.

Goffman, E., 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1st Ed. Colorado: Anchor Press.

Henke, R., 2002. Performance and Literature in Commedia Dell’Arte. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schmitt, N.C., 2010. Life on the Street in Commedia dell’ Arte Scenarios of Flamino Scala. Viator, 41 (1), pp. 367-393.

Schmit, N.C., 2004. Commedia dell’Arte: Characters, Scenarios and Rhetoric. Text and Performance Quarterly, 24 (1), pp. 55-73.

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