Monday, November 13, 2017

Erving Goffman - short summary

Irving Goffman was a Canadian-born American Jewish sociologist. Considered one of the most important sociologists of the 20th century, he is mentioned in one line along with Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Margaret Mead.

Goffman excelled in qualitative-descriptive social research such as that which characterized major figures in the fields of psychology and social research, in their early years, and did not rely on quantitative processing of findings such as those common today in many areas of the social sciences. His book, published in 1959, "Presenting the Self in Everyday Life," brought him worldwide publicity and has since been published in at least ten languages.
According to this approach, there is no single "truth", but various truths dictated by the way the individual interprets reality. According to which, when we come to conduct social research, we should not look at society as a large group, but examine each situation individually. At the same time, as we examine a particular situation (what is happening on the center of the stage), we need to keep in mind the broader social and cultural context (according to the parable of the theater, wardrobe, or parking lot).

According to Goffman the individual wears and takes off masks all the time. He illustrates this by using the word "person", which comes from the Greek root "persona", which means mask.

Goffman is best known for his contribution to symbolic interaction and role theory. Goffman uses the theatrical metaphor, arguing that humans play roles on different social stages. For example, in the social arena "home" a person can play the role of "father" and behave in a certain way, while in the social arena "workplace" he can play the role of "employee" and behave in a different way.

Goffman Coined the idea of self-presentation: very radical at the time. Was a variant of Interpretative sociology: a sociology of people interpreting and attaching meaning to their world. You are either for agency or structuralism: schism in sociology. Tries to find implicit rules that govern life. Disturbances are used to discover these.

Dramaturgical approach. According to Goffman social life is like a performance: a play enacted on a stage, in front of an audience. Why? Because you want an audience to test your identities (front stage) and teammates with whom you withdraw backstage and can converse casually. Tact: helping people out when people make mistakes. Goffman’s methodology was participant observation, often very deep. Institutions that should deal with madness, criminality or illness often enhance the phenomena they should reduce because within these total institutions only two identities are possible: right and wrong. Goffman’s focus on micro situations makes him lose track of the bigger picture.  

Another contribution of Goffman to the science of sociology is his essay on the subject of totalitarian institutions. In this article, Goffman examines a number of what he calls totalitarian institutions: schools, prisons, military training camps, psychiatric hospitals, and even concentration camps. His main contention is that despite the considerable differences between these institutions, they all have similar characteristics that dictate the behavior of the individual in their limited space. Some interpret the article as a critique not only against psychiatric institutions but against totalitarian regimes wherever they are.