Dramaturgy and software development

je_apostrophe tries to guess how I relate dramaturgy to software development:

… a dramaturgy is kind of like a company “Methodology” of an advertising firm or a consulting firm, it is built up because one person who is already good at something decides to write down what works, but talent doesn’t scale so the users of “The Methodology” solve all problems the same way whether it’s the best or not … – i think this is an orthogonal idea to “writing factories” pumping out what some people want but not things that are great writing.

He quotes the Dictionary.com entry for the word, which vaguely states that it’s “The art of the theater, especially the writing of plays.” Most commonly, the word is used to refer to the narrative form or structure of a story.

This is definitely related to methodology, but that’s not quite what I had in mind. To explain, I guess I have to recount my history with the term software architecture.

About two years ago I began to look into what software architecture really is about. I very often heard the term, and especially in the context of how important the architecture of a system is. I met people who called themselves “system architects”. But whenever I asked somebody what it meant to them, I got vague answers.

The most common use of the term, however, seemed to be as referring to the highest-level structure of a system. But I felt that there was something more to it. You could as well talk about the highest-level design, which didn’t say as much as the word architecture.

As I read and thought more about it, I began to think in terms of team culture—that it had to do with the vocabulary, the structure of the team, the history of the project, traditions, the shared experience, and so on.

Dramaturgy entered the scene as I read a little about the principles of storytelling, and related it to software architecture. I saw different software architectures as somewhat analogous to literary genres.

More recently, I’ve been thinking about this as constrained universes of expression. A literary genre would be such a universe; as would the entire craft of writing stories, as well as a single story, because it invents its own constraints, establishes them with the reader and then exploits them.

What Alexandre Dumas did when he (I guess) created a structure or framework for his team of writers, was to communicate his intent by giving them a constrained universe of expression. If that involved what we would call methodology, I don’t know. If the constraints of the universe were clear enough, the writers themselves might have been free to decide how they best could achieve their contribution to the product of the team.

I don’t know whether Dumas’s writers collaborated on each story, or if they wrote a story each. If they did collaborate, and the constraints were clear enough, the methodology or process could be allowed to spontaneously emerge. (This again reminds me of the Coppola quote about the difference between a good and a bad movie being getting everyone involved in making the same movie.)

The above was posted to my personal weblog on August 11, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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