In This Article Erving Goffman

  • Introduction
  • Major Works
  • Monographs and General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Situating Goffman
  • Analytic Attitudes

Sociology Erving Goffman
by
Greg Smith, Robert Philburn
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0228

Introduction

The son of Ukrainian immigrant parents, Erving Manual Goffman was born on 11 June 1922 in Mannville, Alberta, Canada. He attended high school in Winnipeg and entered the University of Manitoba in 1939, majoring in natural sciences. However, his interests shifted toward the social sciences before he left in 1942, still some credits short of his degree. He returned to study at Toronto in 1944, obtaining a BA degree in 1945. That fall he began studies toward the MA degree in sociology at the University of Chicago. Initially influenced by W. Lloyd Warner, his 1949 master’s thesis gave an ethnographic analysis of the responses of cosmopolitan middle-class women as they refused to take entirely seriously the demands of the Thematic Apperception Test that Goffman administered. His doctoral dissertation, “Communication Conduct in an Island Community” (1953), was based on fieldwork in the Shetland Islands sponsored by the University of Edinburgh’s Social Anthropology department. In it Goffman first introduced the term “interaction order” to describe the domain of social life established by co-present persons. This was the sociological terrain he made his own. The investigation of the properties of the interaction order provided the thread that ran through the disparate topic-matters of his eleven books and more than a dozen significant journal articles. Goffman stayed another year in Chicago following the successful defense of his dissertation, drafting an original monograph (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, first published in 1956 in Edinburgh) and papers on face-work, embarrassment, involvement, and deference and demeanor. Between the end of 1954 and 1957 he worked as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, conducting the fieldwork and writing that led to Asylums (1961). Appointed to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958, he rose quickly to full professor in 1962. A sabbatical year at Harvard prefigured a move to the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, where he remained until his untimely death in 1982.

Major Works

It was the publication of the enlarged Anchor Books edition of Goffman 1959 at signaled Goffman’s arrival as a distinctive voice within English-speaking sociology. He quickly consolidated his reputation with another four books appearing before the end of 1963. Goffman 1961a analyzes the mental patient’s situation. Goffman 1961b is a technical analysis of the role of fun and the mobilization of identity in interaction. Aspects of co-present behavior in public are covered in Goffman 1963a and Goffman 1971. Goffman 1963b is a classic contribution to deviance studies. Calculation and risk in face-to-face dealings are explored in Goffman 1967 and Goffman 1969. Goffman 1974 regrounds his sociology around the “frame” notion. Goffman 1979 is a classic contribution to visual sociology. Goffman 1981a provides unique insights into conversational interaction.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1956. The presentation of self in everyday life. Edinburgh: Univ. of Edinburgh, Social Sciences Research Centre.

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    The long-established life as drama metaphor was adapted and developed to shed specific light on the details of face-to-face conduct. Goffman introduced the notion of impression management and developed his dramaturgical perspective in ingenious ways. Outlines six dramaturgical “principles”: performances, teams, regions and region behavior, discrepant roles, communication out of character, and the arts of impression management. It offered not a static classification of forms of conduct but an analysis examining dynamic issues about projecting and sustaining definitions of the situation.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.

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    A version of Goffman 1956 that retained the same chapter structure but expanded its content. New illustrations of dramaturgical concepts have been added to those already included in the earlier edition and illustrations previously mentioned in footnotes often relocated to the main text.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1961a. Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. New York: Anchor Books.

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    Based on a year’s fieldwork at St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC, the book presents four essays. The first examines the mental hospital as a closed environment, a “total institution”; the second, the changes in the mental patient’s framework for judging themselves and others (their “moral career”); the third analyzes the rich “underlife” of the hospital through which the patient can express distance from the model of social being held out by the hospital; the fourth is a critique of institutional psychiatry.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1961b. Encounters: Two studies in the sociology of interaction. Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill.

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    Encounters are those interactions where the participants sustain a single focus of cognitive and visual attention. Examination of the “fun in games” shows the importance of involvement and the “membrane” that selects the wider social attributes allowed to figure within the enclosed interaction. An alternative to functionalist role theory, “role distance” captures the actualities of interactional conduct expressed in the various forms of joking, irony, and self-deprecation that imply the self is other than the implied by current role demands.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1963a. Behavior in public places: Notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: The Free Press.

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    A study not of public places as such but of the kinds of interaction typically found therein. Introduces the key notions of unfocused interaction, where persons pursue their own concerns in the presence of others, and focused interaction where persons cooperate in sustaining a single focus of attention. Includes important discussions of situational proprieties, civil inattention, body idiom, involvement, and participation.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1963b. Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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    An examination of the situation and relationships of persons disqualified from full acceptance within a situation. Drawing on studies of disability, ethnicity, crime, deviance and social problems it shows how the “discredited” and the “discreditable” manage their dealings with “normals.” Presents useful distinctions between social, personal, and ego or felt identity and introduces the now popular notion of the “politics of identity.”

  • Goffman, Erving. 1967. Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. New York: Anchor Books.

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    Draws together journal articles mainly from the 1950s on face-work, deference and demeanor, embarrassment, alienation from interaction, and mental symptoms, each demonstrating how a sociology of interaction focuses on “not men and their moments” but “moments and their men” (p. 3). Included also is a new study based on his observations of gambling in Nevada casinos, “Where the Action Is.” Goffman’s focus on “fateful” activities and situations (i.e., those both problematic and consequential) has catalyzed further studies of gambling and other risky activities.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1969. Strategic interaction. Philadelphia: Univ. of Philadelphia Press.

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    The book’s two chapters examine the role of deception and calculation in “mutual dealings.” “Expression games” explore “one general human capacity . . . to acquire, reveal and conceal information” (p. 4) concentrating on the inferences that can be made about the intentions of others. “Strategic interaction” considers the bases of decision-making in circumstances that are mutually fateful. Both chapters complicate Mead’s notion of taking the attitude of the otherand the simple notions of intersubjectivity it sometimes implied.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1971. Relations in public: Microstudies of the public order. New York: Basic Books.

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    Continues the interests in unfocused and focused interaction announced in Behavior in Public Places. Its six free-standing chapters explore “singles” and “withs,” types of personal territories that help preserve the self, “supportive interchanges,” and “remedial interchanges” that keep everyday dealings in good order “tie-signs” and “normal appearances” that enable relationships, places, and situations to make sense. The 1969 article “The Insanity of Place” is appended. Deeply biographical, it outlines the havoc wrought by a mentally ill person in the home.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame analysis: An essay in the organization of experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Ten years in the making, and apparently intended as his magnum opus, Goffman explores experiential dimensions of social life. Offers a conceptual terminology addressing the fundamental practical problem, What is going on here? While experience is made sense via primary frameworks, these can be transformed into keyings and fabrications. How frames are grounded and their vulnerabilities is a major analytic concern. The conceptual framework is put to work in studies of the theatrical frame (chap. 5) and talk (chap. 13).

  • Goffman, Erving. 1979. Gender advertisements. London and Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

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    Analyzes how gender is displayed in advertising imagery using over five hundred advertisements and other public pictures. The leading themes of Goffman’s “pictorial pattern analysis” of the pictures—relative size, the feminine touch, function ranking, the family, the ritualization of subordination, and licensed withdrawal—manifest stark gender differences. Goffman’s book anticipates Judith Butler’s famed performativity thesis by over a decade.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1981a. Forms of talk. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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    Three of the book’s five chapters were previously published. “Replies and Responses” provides a critique of conversation analysis, presenting an ostensibly more open model of reference-response. “Response Cries” makes a case for a sociology of non-lexical utterances. “Footing” is a general statement about alignment: how co-conversationalists’ identities are evident in how we produce or receive talk. “The Lecture” applies much of the preceding approaches to the ceremonial lecture. “Radio Talk” concentrates on DJs’ speech errors in order to understand the features of imperfections in ordinary talk.

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