Course:SOCI1110/Erving Goffman

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Erving Goffman



Erving Goffman was welcomed into a loving Jewish family on July 11th 1922 in Alberta, Canada. Parents, Max Goffman and Anne Averbach, immigrated from Europe to Canada between 1900 - 1920. At age 4, Goffman and his family moved to the small, very religious town Dauphin. In this town they were often faced with hardships and struggles due to the fact that they were Jewish, as well as the decade they lived in. Despite the ongoing struggles, Goffman used these as leverage for his success in sociology.

As a man, Goffman was often very closed off about his personal life and only wished to be judged by his work and publications. In 1941 he enrolled in the University of Manitoba where he studied chemistry courses that he didn't particularly enjoy. After 3 years he dropped out, and did not finish his education at this university. It is said that he only studied here due to his eligibility to be drafted in the army, this way he wouldn’t have to. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto in 1945, while being a star student in sociology. He then furthered his studies at the University of Chicago, and graduated. In 1962 he taught full time as a professor at the University of California. He started his career with an article on social class, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. In 1968 his career took him to the University of Pennsylvania and became the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology. He shared his knowledge and was the president of the American Sociological Association in 1981 and 1982. With everywhere Goffman roamed and all of his work, his life was reflected through it all. He was a man that took pride in who he was and showed it in everything he was.

In 1982 we lost a beloved theorist and sociological genius. He passed on at the age of 60 due to cancer. In Goffman’s Philadelphia home, he left one room filled with large filing cabinets holding many manila folders. We can assume these folders held a great deal of his knowledge and work. Unfortunately he had them sealed when he passed on and the public will never get to understand the last workings of Erving Goffman. He is loved and remembered by his loving son, Thomas and daughter, Alice. As well as his second wife, chairman of the department of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, Gillian Sankoff.

Carrer and Contributions

Goffman practiced the "Symbolic Interactionism" theory. He style was very contemporary, based on new and break through research in the social sciences. Much of his work was based on the new and changing world during the war. He published a total of 11 books with all new concepts of social interaction and mental. His first set of books published were Asylums, Interaction Ritual, Relations in Public, and Forms of Talk. Asylums was his most popular book in this category. He talked about how mental health institutes were being developed, as well as becoming more modern because mental health issue was starting to rise. Later on he published "Encounters," and "Strategic Interaction," after both pieces were renamed. His last set of books published were "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Stigma, Behaviour in Public Places, Frame Analysis," and "Gender Advertisement." His most famous feature in another book is "The Presentation of Self," which won an MacIver Prize for best recent book in 1959. Onto of all these books Goffman also had various publications and did lots of ground-breaking research at some of Americas top institutes. Some of the Universities he was worked at include,University of Chicago as a research assistant and associate, professor at University of California, studies as a fellow at Harvard University, and also studies abroad at Manchester University in England.


In the 1930’s the Great Depression hit the little town of Dauphin hard, and income was cut in half. Goffman, being so young, did not fully understand the effects this had on the family and the rest of the community. In 1939, Goffman at the age of 17, was the beginning of World War II. Goffman had grown to be very bright and receptive. As a youth, Goffman was faced with heightened amounts of anti- semitism. Which only got worse as more Jews immigrated into Canada. With going through all of these hardships and being faced with ongoing prejudice, his work in his later years were definitely shaped by this. “ The topics his sociology addresses are not social problems but rather private troubles, problems of identity rather than problems of ideology, personal rather than collective” (C.F. Mills 1959). Mental health issues were becoming more and more common at this time as well. Many new research and technology was being developed to meet these needs. Mental health institutes had started growing as a public need.

Works Cited

Adlam, J., Gill, I., Glackin, S. N., Kelly, B. D., Scanlon, C., & Mac Suibhne, S. (2013). Perspectives on Erving Goffman's "Asylums" fifty years on. Medicine, Health Care, And Philosophy, 16(3), 605-613. doi:10.1007/s11019-012-9410-z

Burns, T. (2002, September). Erving Goffman. doi:10.4324/9780203205501

Burns, T. (1992). Erving Goffman. [electronic resource]. London ; New York : Routledge, 1992.

Cavan, S. (2013). When Erving Goffman Was a Boy: The Formative Years of a Sociological Giant. Symbolic Interaction, 37(1), 41-70. doi:10.1002/symb.83

Delaney, M. (n.d.). Erving Goffman: Professional and Personal Timeline. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from

Dicke, W. (1982, November 22). ERVING GOFFMAN, SOCIOLOGIST WHO STUDIED EVERY DAY LIFE ... Retrieved October 23, 2016, from

Erving Goffman - Blackwood. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2016, from

Hancock, B. H., & Garner, R. (2015). Erving Goffman: Theorizing the Self in the Age of Advanced Consumer Capitalism. Journal For The Theory Of Social Behaviour, 45(2), 163-187. doi:10.1111/jtsb.12062

Lyng, S. (2016). Goffman, Action, and Risk Society: Aesthetic Reflexivity in Late Modernity. UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal, 20(1), 61-77.

Sociologist Erving Goffman - A Brief Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2016, from