Erving Goffman


Nationality: Canadian
Place of Birth: Canada
Place of Death: Philadelphia, PA

Table of Contents:
Personal Information
Further Readings About the Author

Personal Information: Family: Born June 11, 1922, in Canada; died November 19, 1982, in Philadelphia, Pa.; son of Max and Anne Goffman; widower; children: one son. Education: University of Toronto, B.A., 1945; University of Chicago, M.A., 1949, Ph.D., 1953. Memberships: American Sociological Association (president, 1981-82). Addresses: Office: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa. 19104.

Career: University of Chicago, Division of Social Sciences, Chicago, Ill., assistant, 1952-53, resident associate, 1953-54; National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md., 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.

LL.D., University of Manitoba, 1976; Guggenheim fellowship, 1977-78; In Medias Res, International Prize for Communicating, 1978; 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.


  • The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (monograph), University of Edinburgh Social Sciences Research Centre, 1956, revised and expanded edition, Anchor Books, 1959.

  • Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction, Bobbs-Merrill, 1961.

  • Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, Anchor Books, 1961, Doubleday (New York City), 1990.

  • Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, Prentice-Hall, 1963.

  • Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings, Free Press of Glencoe, 1963.

  • Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior, Doubleday, 1967.

  • Strategic Interaction, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.

  • Relations in Public: Micro-Studies of the Public Order, Basic Books, 1971.

  • Frame Analysis: Essays on the Organization of Experience, Harper, 1974.

  • Gender Advertisements, Harper, 1979.

  • Forms of Talk, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

  • The Goffman Reader, edited and with preface and introduction by Charles Lemert and Ann Branaman, Blackwell (Cambrigde, MA), 1997.

Contributor to such periodicals as Psychiatry and theAmerican Journal of Sociology .


A sociologist well-known for his analyses of human interaction, Erving Goffman relied less on formal scientific method than on observation to explain contemporary life. He wrote on subjects ranging from the way people behave in public to the different "forms" of talk, and always from the point of view that every facet of human behavior is "significant in the strategy and tactics of social struggle, " aTimes Literary Supplement critic says. Roy Harris, in anotherTimes Literary Supplement review, calls Goffman "a public private-eye. . . forever on the lookout for candid-camera evidence which might lead to divorce proceedings between ourselves and our social images." And, because Goffman communicated so vividly the "horror and anguish--as well as some of the absurd comedy--of everyday life, " New York Times Book Review critic Marshall Berman dubs him "the Kafka of our time."

In Gender Advertisements, his 1979 publication, Goffman investigated the way that commercial advertising both reflects and helps shape our concept of "masculine" and "feminine" behavior. After examining a selection of advertising pictures from magazines, Goffman concluded that women are consistently subordinated to men in a variety of situations, relating to them not as equals but as children to parents. Writing in the New York Times, Anatole Broyard explains: "Like children, . . . women are allowed to cop out of reality because the men beside them take responsibility for it. Like children, they `are saved from seriousness, ' allowed to look and behave childishly, assuming physically inefficient and clowning postures." Furthermore, notes Anne Hollander in the New York Times Book Review, "it is women who are permitted to burst into tears, to stare absently into space while men speak earnestly to them, or to hide their mouths with their hands when startled. . . . And because of the general understanding that gender displays are natural to human behavior, portrayals along such lines in the social interplay of the sexes must be taken as `both shadow and substance': They show not only what we wish or pretend to be, but what we are."

While critics herald the truth of Goffman's interpretations, they do question some of the assumptions from which his conclusions were drawn. Hollander, for one, suggests that the way male-female relationships are depicted in photographs may be more a reflection of pictorial conventions than a reflection of the status of women today. Some thematic images of female subordination are ironic, she argues, "invoking a detached understanding of established pictorial rituals as well as an engagement with current social ones." And Anatole Broyard articulates a similar view: "Increasingly today, it seems that advertising is not only read as parody, but intended as parody as well. Much of the humor of advertising depends on this double meaning, which is a play on the oversimplification being depicted." Broyard's stated intention is not to discredit what he considers a valuable study, but rather, as he puts it, "to show that men and women are more complicated than they are advertised to be."



  • Burns, Tom, Erving Goffman, Routledge (New York City), 1992.

  • Ditton, Jason, ed., The View from Goffman, St. Martin's Press (New York City), 1980.

  • Manning, Phiip, Erving Goffman and Modern Sociology, Polity Press (Cambridge, England), 1992.

  • Riggins, Stephen Harold, Beyond Goffman: Studies on Communication, Institution, and Social Interaction, Mouton de Gruyter (New York City), 1990.

  • Drew, Paul and Anthony Wootton, eds., Erving Goffman: Exploring the Interaction Order, Northeastern University Press, 1988.


  • American Journal of Sociology, November, 1962;American Anthropologist , December, 1962;

  • American Sociological Review, June, 1964;

  • Times Literary Supplement, December 31, 1971, December 18, 1981;

  • New York Times Book Review, December 3, 1972, February 27, 1972, June 4, 1972, April 29, 1979;

  • New York Review of Books, November 1, 1973;

  • New York Times, April 18, 1979;

  • Choice, September, 1979, September, 1981.

Obituary Notice:
Born June 11, 1922, in Manville, Alberta, Canada; died of cancer, November 19, 1982, in Philadelphia, Pa. Social scientist, educator, and author. An ethnographer, Goffman is best known for his theories suggesting that routine social actions, such as gossip, gestures, and grunts, indicate that people naturally strive to formulate identities. According to Geoffrey Nunberg'sNew York Times Book Review critique of one of Goffman's books, the author gave "a mordant irony to the pretensions and theatricality of everyday interaction." Goffman, a Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Anthropological Association, and the American Sociological Association, serving as that organization's president since 1981. He received the McIver Prize and was a fellow of the American Academy. His books include Forms of Talk, Gender Advertisements, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Obituaries and other sources: New York Times, November 22, 1982;
  • Time, December 6, 1982;
  • London Times, January 6, 1983.

    Source: Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 1999.

    Source Database: Contemporary Authors

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