Sociology Index

Erving Goffman

Among distinguished sociologists, Erving Goffman has made a major contribution to the study of social interaction, encounters, gatherings and small groups in Behaviour in Public Places (1963), Interaction Ritual (1967), and Relations in Public (1971). Erving Goffman has also made important contributions to role analysis in Encounters (1961a). Erving Goffman's principal concern has been with the constituents of fleeting, chance or momentary encounters, that is with the sociology of everyday life. To grasp the orderliness of such meetings, Goffman employed drama as an analogy for the staging of social meetings in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959). In 2007 he was listed by The Times Higher Education Guide as the sixth most-cited author in the humanities and social sciences, behind Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu and Paul Michel Foucault, and ahead of Jürgen Habermas.

Erving Goffman was influenced by Herbert Blumer, Émile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Everett Hughes, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, Talcott Parsons, Alfred Schütz, Georg Simmel and W. Lloyd Warner. For Erving Goffman, the social order is always precarious because it is disrupted by embarrassment, withdrawal and the breakdown of communication; these issues are explored in Stigma (1964). Erving Goffman contributed to the sociological concept of framing (frame analysis), to game theory (the concept of strategic interaction), and to the study of interactions and linguistics. With regard to the latter, he argued that the activity of speaking must be seen as a social rather than a linguistic construct. From a methodological perspective, Goffman often employed qualitative approaches, specifically ethnography, most famously in his study of social aspects of mental illness, in particular the functioning of total institutions. 

Erving Goffman's contributions are valued as an attempt to create a theory that bridges the agency-and-structure divide, and for popularizing social constructionism, symbolic interactionism, conversational analysis, ethnographic studies, and the study and importance of individual interactions. He has also contributed to the analysis of inmates in mental institutions in Asylums (1961b). Erving Goffman's recent publications include Frame Analysis (1974) and Gender Advertisements (1979).