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Erving Goffman


Best Known For:

  • Major figure in the symbolic interaction perspective
  • Dramaturgical Perspective
  • 73rd President of The American Sociological Association


Erving Goffman was born June 11, 1922.


He died November 20, 1982 of stomach cancer.

Early Life And Education:

Goffman was born in Canada to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. He studied sociology as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and completed his graduate work at the University of Chicago.

Career and Later Life:

Goffman began teaching at the University of California at Berkley and becoming a full professor in 1962. In 1968 he became a Chair in Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania with a salary of $30,000, which at the time set a new high for a sociology professor.

Goffman pioneered the study of face-to-face interaction, also known as micro-sociology, which he made famous in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. He used the imagery of the theater to portray the importance of human and social action. All actions, he argued, are social performances that aim to give off and maintain certain desired impressions of the self to others. In social interactions, humans are actors on a stage playing a performance for an audience. The only time that individuals can be themselves and get rid of their role or identity in society is backstage where no audience is present.

In 1961, Goffman published the book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates in which he examined the nature and effects of being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital. He described how this process of institutionalization socializes people into the role of a good patient (i.e. someone dull, harmless and inconspicuous), which in turn reinforces the notion that severe mental illness is a chronic state.

Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience was another of Goffman’s well-known books that was published in 1974. Frame analysis is the study of the organization of social experiences and so with his book, Goffman wrote about how conceptual frames structure an individual’s perception of society. He used the concept of a picture frame to illustrate this concept. The frame, he described, represents structure and is used to hold together an individual’s context of what they are experiencing in their life, represented by a picture.

In 2007, The Times Higher Education Guide listed him as the 6th most-cited intellectual in the humanities and social sciences.

Other Major Publications

  • Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction (1961)
  • Behavior in Public Places (1963)
  • Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity (1963)
  • Interaction Ritual (1967)
  • Gender Advertisements (1976)
  • Forms of Talk (1981)


Blackwood,B.D. (1997). Erving Goffman. http://www.blackwood.org/Erving.htm

Johnson, A. (1995). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

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