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Erving Goffman (1922–1982)

Author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

28+ Works 5,361 Members 35 Reviews 8 Favorited

About the Author

Erving Goffman, an American sociologist, received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He is known for his distinctive method of research and writing. He was concerned with defining and uncovering the rules that govern social behavior down to the minutest details. He contributed to show more interactionist theory by developing what he called the "dramaturgical approach," according to which behavior is seen as a series of mini-dramas. Goffman studied social interaction by observing it himself---no questionnaires, no research assistants, no experiments. The title of his first book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), became one of the themes of all of his subsequent research. He also observed and wrote about the social environment in which people live, as in his Total Institutions. He taught his version of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania; he died in 1983, the year in which he served as president of the American Sociological Association. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: American Sociological Association

Works by Erving Goffman

Relations in Public (1971) 147 copies
Gender Advertisements (1601) 99 copies
Strategic Interaction (1970) 85 copies
La Nouvelle communication (1981) 35 copies
L'arrangement des sexes (2002) 11 copies

Associated Works

The Disability Studies Reader (1905) — Contributor, some editions — 173 copies
Language and Social Context: Selected Readings (1972) — Contributor — 149 copies
The Sociology of Risk and Gambling Reader (2006) — Contributor — 6 copies

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Finished this while locked out of GR due to some no doubt well-intentioned addition of captcha software to the login process, so initial impressions were not captured.

This is not a scientific book, nor is it an analysis. As the title and introduction both indicate, these essays are notes or thoughts in response to Goffman's various readings on stigmatized individuals. These would be referred to as "marginalized" now, and 21st-century readers may take issue with some of the groups identified as such. That would miss the point, though: what Goffman has noticed is that the strategies for dealing with a stigma are similar across different communities or stigmas or what have you, and it is these strategies that interest him. What also intrigues him is the gradient nature of stigma, or as someone who spends too much time online might say, how stigma is a spectrum: the criteria that define the "normal" are very, very narrow, and every person is guaranteed to pass out of it at some point in their life (too young, too old, unemployed, etc). So in a very real sense, everybody is stigmatized at some point in their lives, and the stategies they have adopted for coping with this are similar to, or even learned from, those who are stimagtized for their entire lives.

It's a good book, worth reading. Other GR reviewers seem hung up on the fact that it's not written like a self-help book. Let's be honest: if you find this book to be dry or difficult reading , you're not going to make it very far past the sort of thing offered in airport newsstands. Goffman is readable, he makes a few amusing points some of which might be generously construed as "jokes", and he neatly summarizes information or episodes from multiple sources (synthesizes, as a friend used to describe it, and really that is what social scientists do). What Goffman does *not* do is start from a premise and work towards a definite conclusion, and this can make the book feel pointless or meandering: but as the title says, these are notes, not a Theory.
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mkfs | 11 other reviews | Aug 13, 2022 |
Goffman examines the issues surrounding social and personal identity of the stigmatized, and how this contrasts with, interacts with, and overlaps with the social and personal identity of the “normals”. The chapters take us through various relevant areas, including information control, personal identity, group alignment, ego identity, self and others, and deviance. Various stigmas are discussed throughout the book as examples, including mental health issues, criminal backgrounds, physical or cosmetic deformities, blindness, deafness, illiteracy, sexuality, and social and educational background.
Goffman had various theories that he brings into this work from other areas of his writings and researches, including the idea of “personas”, and the “dramaturgic approach” to social reality. The latter of which makes the analogy of being “on”, ie “on stage”, where we act a specific character that is not really us, when put in certain situations, and relax only into being our real selves when with others who we know well and trust to understand us. This may be for a number of reasons: the celebrity does it to retain a level of privacy around their personal identity and social relations and distance these from public consumption, the (potential) son in law does it to keep on-side with his in-laws, the employee does it to present himself favorably to his boss or colleagues, and of course here the stigmatized (or stigmatizable), discredited (or discreditable) do it to either hide their socially unaccepted feature (or history), in order to relieve social tensions and live an easier or more accepted life in public.

Goffman is an entertaining, clear, and engaging writer, who had interests in various areas of psychology, and I will be looking out for some of his other works in the future. What he makes clear here is that stigma is very much a spectrum, and few of us will go through our lives without ever being in a situation as some point where we are the stigmatised. Indeed it is very much relative on environment, and what makes us accepted in one place and time may very well be a stigma somewhere else. Appreciating this fact allows us to better understand the difficulties of those who are more obviously and continuously stigmatized, and the adaptations they have to make to their social interactions in order to manage their identity and social relations.
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P_S_Patrick | 11 other reviews | Apr 27, 2021 |
Seems like it needs a new, less casually racist edition, but otherwise a classic, solid introduction to works in the sociological field.
 
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inescapableabby | 15 other reviews | Nov 28, 2018 |

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