7
Self

TERMS FOR THE HUMAN BEING

When seen up close, the individual, bringing together in various
ways all the connections that he has in life, becomes a blur. (1961b:
143)

As an ‘ethnographer of small entities’ (Verhoeven 1993: 323) Goffman found that his sociology could not help but discuss individual selves. Goffman’s thinking about the individual was every bit as controversial as was his conception of sociological method (discussed in the next chapter). Critics frequently disapproved of what they saw as his elevation of the predatory, inauthentic and manipulative dimensions of human nature. His sociology is notorious for use of terms like ploys, stratagems, plots, devices, concealments and the like. Humanistic critics fault Goffman for his apparent promotion of a dark image of humans as cynical opportunists ruthlessly pursuing their amoral interests by managing impressions and controlling information. Before the merits of such judgements can be assessed, we need first to consider how accurate is this characterization of Goffman’s conception of the self.

An immediate difficulty is that Goffman is not consistent in his use of such key terms for the human being as self, the individual and person (Manning 1976; Cahill 1998). This complicates the task of tracing continuities and developments in Goffman’s thinking. Often, Goffman simply follows standard usage in regarding ‘self’ as the seat

-95-

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Erving Goffman
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • 1 - Goffman’s Project 1
  • 2 - Origins and Emergence 12
  • 3 - Interaction’s Orderliness 33
  • 4 - Framing Experience 55
  • 5 - Asylums 68
  • 6 - Spoiled Identity and Gender Difference 84
  • 7 - Self 95
  • 8 - Methods and Textuality 110
  • 9 - After Goffman 125
  • Further Reading 130
  • References 133
  • Index 143
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