Erving Goffman (1922-1982)

Erving GoffmanDr. Erving Goffman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in his native Canada in 1945. His master’s and doctorate were granted by the University of Chicago in 1949 and 1953, respectively, where he studied both sociology and social anthropology. While working on his doctorate, he spent a year on one of the smaller of the Shetland islands gathering material for his dissertation and his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959; which is available in at least ten different languages and has been almost continuously in print.

In 1958, Dr. Goffman joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley and was promoted to full professor in 1962. He joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 where he became the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology. In 1977 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Just prior to his death, Goffman served as president of the American Sociological Association in 1981-1982.

In the 70’s, he served on the Committee for the Study of Incarceration based on his work Asylums: Essays in the Social Situations of Mental Patients and Other Inmates and prior to that he also served as a “visiting scientist” to the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda MD, where he began his researches that led to this book. Asylums is a penetrating analysis of the significance of social structure in producing conforming behavior, especially in environments that Goffman labeled “total institutions,” such as mental asylums, prisons and military establishments.

Erving Goffman’s primary methodology was ethnographic study, observation and participation rather than statistical data gathering, and his theories provided an ironic insight into routine social actions. For example, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life uses the theatrical stage as a metaphor to explain how we “stage manage” the images we try to convey to those around us. For this impression management, Goffman coined the term “dramaturgy.”

The book cover to his Relations in Public describes him as “perhaps the most precise and perceptive ‘people watcher’ writing today.” Relations in Public is a continuation of the researches presented in three of his prior books, Encounters, Behavior in Public Places, and Interaction Ritual. Tom Burns says of Goffman’s work, “The eleven books form a singularly compact body of writing. All his published work was devoted to topics and themes which were closely connected, and the methodology, angles of approach, and, of course, style of writing remained characteristically his own throughout.” Interaction Ritual in particular is an interesting account of daily social interaction viewed with a new perspective accounting for the logic of our behavior in such ordinary circumstances as entering a crowded elevator or bus.

Although sometimes controversial in his conclusions in Gender Advertisements, an examination of the arrangement and use of male and female images in modern advertising, Goffman contributes to our understanding of the way images are used to convey social information and how those images have been incorporated into our social expectations. As Goffman wrote, gender advertisements are “both shadow and substance: they show not only what we wish or pretend to be, but what we are.” Gender Advertisements and Stigma both examine the ways we tend to classify others and be classified by them and how we tend to interact based upon those classification. Goffman used the word “normalization” for this process of classification.

His last book, Forms of Talk, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and was reviewed in both the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. It continues his original metaphor of theatre by examining the social rituals and conventions observed in conversation in the light of performances.

Major Works of Erving Goffman

– The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (monograph), University of Edinburgh Social Sciences Research Centre, 1956, revised and expanded edition, Anchor Books, 1959
– Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction, Bobbs-Merrill, 1961
– Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, Anchor Books, 1961, Doubleday (New York City), 1990
– Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, Prentice-Hall, 1963
– Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings, Free Press of Glencoe, 1963
– Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior, Doubleday, 1967
– Strategic Interaction, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969
– Relations in Public: Micro-Studies of the Public Order, Basic Books, 1971
– Frame Analysis: Essays on the Organization of Experience, Harper, 1974
– Gender Advertisements, Harper, 1979
– Forms of Talk, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981
– The Goffman Reader, edited and with preface and introduction by Charles Lemert and Ann Branaman, Blackwell (Cambrigde, MA), 1997
– Contributor to such periodicals as Psychiatry and theAmerican Journal of Sociology

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