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Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman (June 11, 1922 – November 19, 1982), was a Canadian born sociologist and writer. The 73rd president of American Sociological Associatio, Goffman's greatest contribution to social theory is his study of symbolic interaction in the form of dramaturgical perspective that began with his 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and was developed throughout his life.


Goffman was born to Jewish parents Max and Anne Goffman in Manville, Alberta on June 11, 1922. Goffman attented St. John's Technical High School, Dauphin around 1937 and studied chemistry in University of Manitoba, 1939, received his B.A. at the University of Toronto in 1945 and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1949 and 1953. He was married to Angelica Choate in 1952, with whom he had one son, Tom. Angelica committed suicide in 1964.

Goffman became one of the most influential sociologists of the twentieth century, on a par with Weber, Durkheim, Marx, and Mead, in whose footsteps he followed in developing a sociological social psychology. Goffman studied at the University of Chicago with Everett Hughes, Edward Shils, and W. Lloyd Warner. He would go on to pioneer the study of face-to-face interaction, or micro-sociology, elaborate the "dramaturgical approach" to human interaction, and develop numerous concepts that would have a massive influence. Unlike many of the most influential sociologists, Goffman's influence continued to grow after his death.

Goffman's greatest contribution to social theory is his formulation of symbolic interaction as dramaturgical perspective in his 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Although Goffman is often characterized as a symbolic interactionist, he tried to correct the flaws of symbolic interactionism. For Goffman, society is not a homogeneous creature. We must act differently in different settings. The context we have to judge is not society at large, but the specific context. Goffman suggests that life is a theatre, but we also need a parking lot and a cloak room: there is a wider context lying beyond the face-to-face symbolic interaction.

Author of the seminal text Asylums, for which he gathered information at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, D.C., he describes "institutionalization" as a response by patients to the bureaucratic structures and mortification processes of total institutions such as mental hospitals, prisons and concentration camps. Goffman uses phenomenology to understand how humans perceive the interactions that they observe and take part in. To Goffman there is no real capital-T truth, but interpretations that are real to each individual.

He also wrote Frame analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Many of his works form the basis for the sociological and media studies concept of framing. In 1981 he married the Canadian linguist Gillian Sankoff, with whom he had a daughter, Alice. On November 20, 1982 he died of stomach cancer.


During his lifetime he was awarded the following:

  • Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), University of Manitoba, 1976
  • Guggenheim fellowship, 1977-78
  • In Medias Res, nternational Prize for Communicating, 1978
  • Doctor of Hebrew Literature/Letters (D.H.L.), University of Chicago, 1979
  • Mead-Cooley Award in social psychology
  • Forms of Talk was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award, 1981


During his career Goffman served at the following institutions:

  • University of Chicago, Division of Social Sciences, Chicago, assistant, 1952-53, resident associate, 1953-54
  • National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, visiting scientist, 1954-57
  • University of California, Berkeley, assistant professor, 1958-59, associate professor, 1959-62, professor of sociology, 1962-68
  • University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, 1968-82

He was also the 73rd president of American Sociological Association[1]


  • "Man is not like other animals in the ways that are really significant: Animals have instincts, we have taxes."
  • "Society is an insane asylum run by the inmates."
  • "The world, in truth, is a wedding."
  • "Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity"

Major works

See also


  1. ASA Bio note. Last accessed on 14 January 2006.

External links


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