Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman

Synopsis

Decades after his death, the figure of Erving Goffman (1922-82) continues to fascinate. Perhaps the best-known sociologist of the second half of the twentieth century, Goffman was an unquestionably significant thinker whose reputation extended well beyond his parent discipline.

A host of concepts irrevocably linked to Goffman's name- such as 'presentation of self', 'total institutions', 'stigma', 'impression management' and 'passing'- are now staples in a wide range of academic discourses and are slipping into common usage. Goffman's writings uncover a previously unnoticed pattern and order in the minutiae of everyday interaction. Readers are often shocked when they recognize themselves in his shrewd analyses of errors, awkwardness and common predicaments.

Greg Smith's book traces the emergence of Goffman as a sociological virtuoso, and offers a compact guide both to his sociology and to the criticisms and debates it has stimulated.

Excerpt

Erving Goffman was one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable practitioners of social science, a sociologist universally acknowledged for his singular talent. Long after his death in 1982, simple mention of the word ‘Goffman’ is enough to signify not just a subject matter but also a highly distinctive attitude and analytic stance toward the social world. He first came to prominence with the 1959 publication of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, which he followed two years later with the even more influential Asylums. Unusually, for a sociologist, Goffman enjoyed fame outside his home discipline. That fame was curious because Goffman was not interested, as many leading sociologists are, in the big questions about the nature and development of modern society. His interest was in the structure of face-to-face interaction, in the minutiae of ordinary talk and activity. His sociology was not theoretically ambitious. It modestly espoused description, classification and conceptual articulation, and showed no aspiration towards propositional expression as fully-fledged explanatory and predictive theory. Nor did Goffman develop a school of thought or a new methodological approach for the study of social life. Rather, his interests were confined to quite narrow concerns with what he called the ‘interaction order’ and its implications for the self. Goffman’s single-minded pursuit of the analysis of interaction and what that . . .

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