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Erving Goffman

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Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman an American sociologist was born in Canada on 11 June, 1922 and died in USA on November 19, 1982. He was an American sociologist from Canadian origin and representative of the "second generation" of the Chicago school of sociology. He also became the president of the American Sociological Association. His most significant role played in sociology was a study on the symbolic interaction in the form of a game, which he started in 1959, when he published his book The Presentation of Self in everyday life, and he never stopped throughout his life, expanding the scope of research (Jenkins 160). Hoffman the son of Max and Anna Hoffman, when he was a child, the family returned to Hoffman Manitoba; his sister Francis Bay said that as a child, he was big joker and they never thought that he would reach any success. In the secondary school, he chose chemistry as his specialty at the University of Manitoba in 1939 and he received a Bachelor, Master and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago. In 1952, he spent a year on the Shetland Islands, collecting material about the life of the local community for his thesis, which he defended in 1953.

Sociological Research

In 1952, he married Angelica Choate, by whom he had one son, Tom. Angelica Choate, a psychologist by her profession; she often experienced emotional problems and the need for mental health care so finally she committed suicide in 1964. Likely interest to psychiatric clinics Hoffmann was associated with the experience of his wife. From 1954, he lived in Washington, spent a lot of time in psychiatric hospitals, watching these patients. He began to study interpersonal communication, or microsociology, elaborate "dramaturgical approach" to the interaction of people and introduced many concepts that were a significant contribution to sociology. Many distinguished sociologists Goffman distinguish the fact that after the death of his influence on the thought and research work has continued to increase (Albas 554). Hoffman considered himself a sociologist, and preferred not to reduce its main methodological approach to phenomenology and postmodernism (Jenkins 165). As a sociologist, he stressed that a society is always in the foreground. Despite the fact that Hoffman is often regarded as the founder of symbolic interactionism, and he thought about how to rid it of deficiencies.

Hoffmann was particularly interested in "closed" community in the context of large modern societies (a remote village, the monastery, prison, hospital) as "closed" situation, separated from the surrounding life symbolic barrier (theater, sport, game, theoretical approach to these phenomena with given ideas Hoffman suggested in the early 1980s A. Levada ). Hoffmann's work to a certain extent is similar to the symbolic interactionism of Mead and Blumer, phenomenological sociology Schutz and ethnomethodology Garfunkel. His developed direction is sometimes called dramaturgical perspective in sociology: the fundamental difference between it and the theory of social roles is a focus on analytics is not normative prescriptions and proper execution of the role actor, and in its design, adoption, maintenance and transformation processes of interaction, attention to uncertainty and ambiguity of situations to failures and errors actors.

Legacy: Symbolic interaction

Many of his works are the basis for sociological research and information concepts of structure formation. The most significant contribution to sociology Goffman is his definition of symbolic interaction as a form of the game, which appeared in 1959 in his book The Presentation of Self in everyday life. In accordance with the views of Goffman, society does not have a homogeneous structure. In different conditions, we operate in different ways. The conditions in which we are forced to make decisions that do not relate to society as a whole, and have their own characteristics (Albas 553). Hoffman considers life as a theater, but we also need a place where you can park your car and relieve themselves: there is a wider plan, which is above the level of symbolic interpersonal interaction.


In his classic work The Slave Pens: Several essays on the social situation of the mentally ill and others deprived of their liberty Goffman described how the process of institutionalization brings people into the role of an obedient patient, someone who was' stupid, safe and unobtrusive, "which, in its turn reinforces notions of chronicity of severe mental illness. In The Slave Pens Goffman, gives repose on the mechanisms of suppression of the individual in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and concentration camps, as well as "institutional rejection", associating it with the response of people to violence (Lanigan 341). This work was the result of Hoffmann its annual practice in a large psychiatric hospital of the National Institute of Mental Health near Washington, DC, where he worked as an assistant physiotherapist, was able to establish friendly relations with patients and thus come to a number of unusual findings. Employees of the National Institute of Mental Health tried to convince Hoffman not to publish this work because it contained criticism of psychiatric institutions. Hoffman demonstrates how patients in psychiatric hospitals in situations of social and physical isolation, inevitably formed behavior and role of the "mentally ill", and analyzes the factors and mechanisms of this process in the context of interpersonal interactions and relationships. When a person is in a tough or long-term isolation, he usually tries to attract the attention of others to change their position or to express opposition to a situation in which there is, by means of specific actions (Lanigan 337). They are demonstrative or protest nature, are natural reactions to external circumstances and attitude of the staff and excluding situations are perceived and described as signs of mental illness and danger man for himself and others, as any behavior in a psychiatric hospital is assessed primarily with psychiatric point of view and fixed medical history. At the same time, the stronger the protest against the person stay in a psychiatric hospital - the more intensively used drugs, and other means of fixation interventions lead to a tightening mode, its content in it.


The results of this process are the suppression of the individual, the extinction of the human qualities and behavior formation and role of the "mentally ill." Hoffman shows, when considering human behavior in the broader context of interpersonal interactions and relationships, in which it takes place, any action, regarded as a sign of mental illness and danger man for him and others can get quite natural, not psychopathological explanation: In action is the process of a vicious circle (Lanigan 345). People placed in the "bad" department, discovering that they are given very little equipment and things are clothes they can take every night, recreational items and board games can get out, and there are only furniture of wooden chairs and benches. Acts of hostility to this institution have to be based on limited, poorly designed methods such as knocking a chair on the floor or tearing the newspaper in which the explosive sounds annoying sound. In addition, the more it disproportionately equipment to show rejection hospital, the more it seems such an act of psychotic symptoms, the more justified the administration feels the direction of the patient's "bad" department. When the patient finds himself isolated, naked and without visible means of expression, he can begin to tear the mattress if he can, or write feces on the walls are the actions that the administration sees as inherent in people who require isolation. As a result, Hoffman concluded that the abolition of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization and with Thomas Szasz was one of the founders of the American Association for the Abolition of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.



Works Cited


Albas, D., and C. Albas. “Erving Goffman.” Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews 2007: 553–555.

Jenkins, Richard. “Erving Goffman: A Major Theorist of Power?” Journal of Power 2008: 157–168.

Lanigan, Richard L. “Is Erving Goffman a Phenomenologist?” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 1988: 335–345.


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