Erving Goffman Focuses on Form of Social Interaction

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  • Topic: Sociology, Erving Goffman, Anthony Giddens
  • Pages : 7 (2737 words )
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  • Published : November 29, 2012
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Examine the view that Erving Goffman’s work focuses on forms of social interaction but ignores social structure. Erving Goffman was born on the 11th June 1922 in Mannville, Canada. In 1939, Goffman enrolled at the University of Manitoba where he pursued an undergraduate degree in chemistry; however he then took an interest for sociology while working temporarily at the National Film Board in Ottawa. This was the motivation that he then needed to go on and enrol at the University of Toronto where he studied anthropology and sociology, then after graduating with a degree he began a masters in sociology at the University of Chicago, which was one of the centres’ of sociological research in the United States. In the decade from 1959-1969 Goffman published seven significant books, this was a remarkable achievement, and so has been considered as the most influential sociologist of the twentieth century. The focus of his work was the organisation of observable, everyday behaviour, usually but not always among unacquainted in urban settings. He used a variety of qualitative methods; he then developed classifications of the different elements of social interaction. The assumption of this approach was that these classifications were heuristic, simplifying tools for sociological analysis that did not capture the complexity of lived experience. Goffman was heavily influenced by George Mead and Herbert Blumer in his theoretical framework, and went on to pioneer the study of face-to-face interaction, elaborate the “dramaturgical approach” to human interaction, and develop numerous concepts that would have massive influence. Goffman mainly concentrated on the detailed analysis of encounters and the norms governing these encounters, therefore the evaluation of face-to-face interactions, paying close attention to the small details of these interactions and discovering things that may seem insignificant yet actually are what structure behaviour and behaviour norms. In doing so, Goffman investigated gestures, such as shaking hands or placing a hand on someone else’s shoulder and facial expressions during interactions. These types of gestures came to be known as ‘grammatical structures’ of social interactions. Social interactions create the world to be a predictable place and saw interactions as rituals, in the sense that ‘interaction order’ as Goffman called it is a social order, when we disrupt interaction we disrupt society. Goffman argued that our interactions give us a sense of our social belonging and our sense of inviolability of people. When discussing social interaction Goffman uses notions from the theatre in his analyses. The concept of social role originated in a theatrical setting. Roles are socially defined expectations that a person in a given status, or social position, follows. Goffman sees social life as though played out by actors on a stage, as how people act depends on the roles that they are playing at that time. Goffman then suggests that social life is divided into regions and back regions. The front regions are social occasions or encounters in which individuals act out formal roles; they are essentially, ‘on stage performances’. An example of this would be within the family between a husband and wife who may take care to conceal their quarrels from their children, preserving a front harmony, only to fight bitterly once the children are safely tucked up in bed. The back regions may resemble the backstage of the theatre, where people can relax and open up about their feelings and styles of behaviour they keep in check when on stage. Back regions permit ‘profanities, open sexual remarks, elaborate griping, use of dialect or substandard speech’. (Goffman, 1959). Thus, a waitress may be the soul of quiet courtesy when serving a customer, but become loud and aggressive once behind the swing doors of the kitchen. Goffman (1959) argued that performance teams routinely use backstage regions for such purposes. This approach by...
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