Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman

Synopsis

Erving Goffman was one of the major sociologists of the twentieth century. Why should we continue to read him? What is the real significance of his work? This superb study, written by one of the most respected sociologists at work today, is an indispensible guide to the sociology of Erving Goffman.

Excerpt

Erving Goffman’s last book, Forms of Talk, was reviewed at length in the New York Review of Books and, three months later, in its English clone, the London Review of Books. Given their authors (Christopher Ricks, then Professor of English at Cambridge, and Alan Bennett, playwright and erstwhile member of the Beyond the Fringe quartet), and the journals in which they appeared, the two reviews together amount to dealing the author a reviewing “natural”. Both reviewers are warm in their praise, making much of the ‘grace’ and ‘wit’, the ‘untiring perspicacity’ and ‘humour and imagination (intimately related)’ of his writing, and of the sheer enjoyment they found in reading Goffman. These observations do not refer just to Forms of Talk, for both are at pains to show how well acquainted they were with his other books.

The breadth of Goffman’s appeal and the popularity of his writings outside the special interests of social scientists had been apparent for many years. Well before these reviews appeared, sales of The Presentation of Self were over half a million, Stigma was reaching towards its thirtieth reprinting, and translations existed in over a dozen languages. But the reviews, and the reviewers, are useful markers of the extraordinary range of interest in his writings—although there had been other indications, sometimes in odd places. It was surprising to find the theatre critic of The Guardian adopting the term "Goffmanesque" for occasional use and, what is more, leaving it unexplained. Mr Bennett made the same discovery from the opposite end, so to speak. He reported that he found it disconcerting to realise that "the books I once thought so private are piled promiscuously on any campus counter at the start of every term".

I have begun by remarking on the two reviews because, as well as signalling the enthusiastic warmth with which Goffman’s work had

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