In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Erving Goffman

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Obituaries

Communication Erving Goffman
Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0154


Erving Goffman (1922–1982) was the sociologist who first proposed investigating the “interaction order,” that is, the organization underlying relationships in everyday life, as a serious topic. He was a social theorist of large ideas which have served as the basis of studies of language and social interaction ever since. His explanations of identity, multiple selves, and social roles have shaped current discussion on these subjects across disciplines, but especially in sociology, communication, and psychology. While at the University of California, Berkeley, he taught Emanuel Schegloff and Harvey Sacks, thus contributing to the development of conversation analysis, though that was not his own focus and he sometimes critiqued the ways in which it developed. At Berkeley he was a colleague of John Gumperz, and thus part of early discussions that led to interactional sociolinguistics. Both at Berkeley and later at the University of Pennsylvania, he was a colleague of Dell Hymes, and thus part of the development of the ethnography of communication. Goffman is often classified as a symbolic interactionist, but he rejected this label (as he rejected all labels). His concerns were uncommonly broad: he wanted to understand human interaction, starting with mundane, everyday behavior, most frequently focusing on how strangers interact. His influence has been felt across a wide array of topics within communication, ranging from health to organizational, from legal to political, from analysis of face-to-face interaction to media and performance studies. Decades after his publications appeared, they have become standard references. Within communication, he is often best known for his dramaturgical approach, but the analogy of life as theater was only one of the many fruitful ideas he proposed.

General Overviews

Goffman’s work has been sufficiently influential that multiple book-length discussions of his ideas have appeared. The majority of these have been published by and for sociologists. Only volumes devoted solely to Goffman’s ideas are listed here; many other books consider him as one of a number of social theorists meriting extended attention.

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