Gofifman Erving

Gofifman Erving

(1922-82) Canadian-born US sociologist and prolific author who made a unique contribution to the study of face-to-face interaction in everyday life in a number of interrelated areas. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), the central perspective is DRAMATURGY, a focus carried forward in Encounters (1961) and Behaviour in Public Places (1963). In Stigma (1964) and Asylums (1961), the social construction of deviant identities, and the actor's management of these, is explored. In Frame Analysis (1974) and Forms of Talk (1981), his attention turns to an examination of the ways in which we define, or frame, the world as real, and how framing remains always a precarious accomplishment. Throughout all the stages of Goffmans work, he displayed an unceasing capacity to generate new concepts and conceptual schemas of great ingenuity. An abiding focus of his work was to exhibit social FORMS, those general recurring features of social life which lie beneath the specific content of social life (see also FORM AND CONTENT).

Although standing, broadly, in the symbolic interactionist tradition, and concentrating his attention on face-to-face phenomena, Goffmans interests lay in displaying how even our most minute and apparently insignificant activities are socially structured and surrounded by RITUAL. In his later work, with its focus on the 'S yntax’ of framing, Goffman moved closer to the analytical concerns of ETHNOMETHODOLOGY and CONVERSATION ANALYSIS.

His methods of research included PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION and close analysis of various kinds of naturally occurring social documents and happenings (e.g. advertising images, radio talk). The establishment of the validity of his conceptual schemes would appear to depend, mainly, on his ability to provide persuasive demonstration of their analytical power (a mixture of FORMAL SOCIOLOGY and ANALYTIC INDUCTION).A major element in Goffman's success was his flair as a social observer, which is not easily emulated.

Critics of Goffmans sociology have commented on its author's ‘demonic detachment’, that it is peopled by actors who ‘lack individual qualities’, and that it presents society as a ‘big con’. Nevertheless, even if Goffman's approach may not present people in the round, his sociology possesses great strengths, not least in its steady production of many SENSITIZING CONCEPTS taken up, to good effect, by other sociologists. See also CAREER, ROLE DISTANCE, STIGMA, ENCOUNTER, FRAME, INTERACTION, INTERACTION RITUAL AND INTERACTION ORDER, STRATEGIC INTERACTION, TOTAL INSTITUTION OR TOTAL ORGANIZATION.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000