Goffman, Erving Manual

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GOFFMAN, ERVING MANUAL (1922–1982), Canadian sociologist and ethnographer. The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Goffman was born in Mannville, Alberta, and raised in Dauphin, Manitoba, near Winnipeg. He was educated at the University of Manitoba, the University of Toronto (B.A., 1945) and the University of Chicago (M.A., 1949; Ph.D., 1953). He held academic appointments at the University of Chicago (1952–54), the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland (1954–57), the University of California, Berkeley (1958–68; full professor, 1962); and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology from 1968 until his death from cancer in 1982.

Goffman practiced a form of sociology that he developed largely in opposition to the prevailing "value-free" quantitative methods in favor in the 1940s and 1950s. Using qualitative methods of subtle, sophisticated critical observation, he focused on personal interactions in public places and developed a system of classification and categorization of everyday behaviors, which he referred to as the "interaction order." He understood these behaviors in terms of a strategic "presentation of self," of "impression management" and interpersonal "dramaturgy." Though Goffman's work was immensely influential among sociologists, the quality of his writing as well as the ironies implicit in his portraits of people performing or representing their own identities made his work influential with a wider, more literary, audience outside academic sociology.

Goffman's first major book, and probably still his best known, was The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), in which he set forth his basic insights and established the metaphorical language he was to use in all of his published work. Asylums (1961) was based on an ethnographic study he had conducted at St. Elizabeth's, a federal mental hospital in Washington, d.c., in 1955–57, under the sponsorship of the National Institute of Mental Health. Here he developed his ideas about the deforming effects on those caught in "total institutions" – not only the inmates but the managers as well. It is safe to say that these two books are among the most influential sociological publications of the post-World War ii era. His other major publications, Stigma (1963), Behavior in Public Places (1963), Strategic Interaction (1969), Relations in Public: Micro-Studies of the Public Order (1971), Frame Analysis: Essays on the Organization of Experience (1974), Gender Advertisements (1979), and Forms of Talk (1981), extend and elaborate his observations and theory.

Goffman's interest in acting and game behaviors extended beyond his published work. He is said to have been an avid poker and blackjack player, and while at Berkeley in the 1960s he actually trained as a blackjack dealer and worked at a Las Vegas casino.

[Drew Silver (2nd ed.)]