Erving Goffman. Biografia

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.
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's New 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.


Diane Blackwood

Dr. Erving Goffman received his bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto in his native Canada in 1945.  His master's and doctorate were granted by the University of Chicago in 1949 and 1953, respectively, where he studied both sociology and social anthropology.  While working on his doctorate, he spent a year on one of the smaller of the Shetland islands gathering material for his dissertation and his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959; which is available in at least ten different languages and has been almost continuously in print.
In 1958, Dr. Goffman joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley and was promoted to full professor in 1962.  He joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 where he became the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology. In 1977 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.  Just prior to his death, Goffman served as president of the American Sociological Association in 1981-1982.
In the 70's, he served on the Committee for the Study of Incarceration based on his work Asylums: Essays in the Social Situations of Mental Patients and Other Inmates and prior to that he also served as a "visiting scientist" to the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda MD, where he began his researches that led to this book.  Asylums is a penetrating analysis of the significance of social structure in producing conforming behavior, especially in environments that Goffman labeled "total institutions," such as mental asylums, prisons and military establishments.
Erving Goffman's primary methodology was ethnographic study, observation and participation rather than statistical data gathering, and his theories provided an ironic insight into routine social actions.  For example, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life uses the theatrical stage as a metaphor to explain how we "stage manage" the images we try to convey to those around us.  For this impression management, Goffman coined the term "dramaturgy."
The book cover to his Relations in Public describes him as "perhaps the most precise and perceptive 'people watcher' writing today."  Relations in Public is a continuation of the researches presented in three of his prior books, Encounters, Behaviour in Public Places, and Interaction Ritual.  Tom Burns says of Goffman's work, "The eleven books form a singularly compact body of writing.  All his published work was devoted to topics and themes which were closely connected, and the methodology, angles of approach, and, of course, style of writing remained characteristically his own throughout." Interaction Ritual in particular is an interesting account of daily social interaction viewed with a new perspective accounting for the logic of our behavior in such ordinary circumstances as entering a crowded elevator or bus.
Although sometimes controversial in his conclusions in Gender Advertisements, an examination of the arrangement and use of male and female images in modern advertising, Goffman contributes to our understanding of the way images are used to convey social information and how those images have been incorporated into our social expectations. As Goffman wrote, gender advertisements are "both shadow and substance: they show not only what we wish or pretend to be, but what we are."  Gender Advertisements and Stigma both examine the ways we tend to classify others and be classified by them and how we tend to interact based upon those classification.  Goffman used the word "normalization" for this process of classification.
Tom Burns describes Frame Analysis as "Goffman's longest and most ambitious book.  It is about how we shape and compartmentalise our experience of life and of the world of objects and events around us, and about how the experiencing and acting self, too, can be compartmentalised into a series of part-selves, each a potential factor in the production of experience for ourselves and for others."  Again, the metaphor of theatre and stage management is used to explain how this compartmentalisation is accomplished and why it is necessary.
His last book, Forms of Talk, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and was reviewed in both the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books.  It continues his original metaphor of theatre by examining the social rituals and conventions observed in conversation in the light of performances. 

Article "made for hire" for Magill's Guide to 20th Century Authors (1997) Salem Press, Pasadena, CA.