Dramaturgy sees life as a kind of minitheater; it is a perspective that employs this theatrical metaphor, to explore the performances—the communication of messages and symbolic representations to an audience—that convey impressions that shape subsequent interactions. It concerns symbolic action that refers to what is represented as well as other matters and is predicated on trust. An encounter with a police officer initially is based on trust, but the interaction also echoes and relies upon what is known about “police” and “policing.” Because action itself can convey a rich texture of ambiguous messages, some method is needed to pin down meaning or see how it is framed and encoded. This chapter uses semiotics, or the science of signs, and frame analysis to explicate the structure of meaning that connects actions and structures. The concept of key, which indicates what is going on, or how the social reality presented is to be understood, is used to explain the realities that policing conveys and with which it lives.
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