Goffman, Erving

Goffman, Erving, 1922–82, American sociologist, b. Manville, Alta. His field research in the Shetland Islands resulted in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956), which analyzes interpersonal relations by discussing the active processes by which people make and manage their social roles. Using metaphors of the stage (“dramaturgy”), Goffman describes how ordinary individuals give performances, control their scripts, and enter settings that make up their lives. This active notion of “role” is often associated with the symbolist interactionist school of George Herbert Mead, which argues that humans manipulate social situations by selecting appropriate roles and by maintaining some distance from these roles. Goffman later studied deviance and the “total institution” in Asylums (1961); he later returned to patterns of communication in Frame Analysis (1974) and Forms of Talk (1981). Widely recognized for his distinctive writing style, he served as president of the American Sociological Association in 1981.

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