Remembering Erving Goffman

Andy Fontana:
Marvin Scott Warned Me That Goffman Did Not Like People
Writing About Him, That We Should Only Write About Dead People

Dr. Andreas Fontana, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, wrote this memoir at the invitation of Dmitri Shalin and gave his approval for posting the present version in the Erving Goffman Archives.

[Posted 09-21-07]

September 21, 2007


I only saw Erving Goffman twice, both times when I was a graduate student at UCSD.  He gave a presentation on gender in ads to about 300 people in the auditorium.  He walked in and immediately pointed to the video camera in the back and firmly asked that it be removed or he would not lecture. The second time was later that day when he came in the graduate students’ lounge at the sociology department. He asked a graduate student to point out Paul Attawell to him and once Paul was identified Goffman went over and shook his hand.  Paul had just published a seminal article:  Ethnomethodology since Garfinkel and Goffman was in ‘frame analysis’ mood.  I published my first piece, a chapter for the Sociologies of Everyday Life on Goffman.  When I was at UNLV, might have been 1978, Marvin Scott, a student of Goffman came to visit us.  He told me that he loved my chapter and that I should send it to Goffman himself.  He warned me that Goffman did not like people writing about him, that we should only write about dead people, but the piece was so good that I should send it anyway.  I did but never heard from Goffman.

One of the professors on my doctoral committee was and interactionist by the name of Murray Davis who was a graduate student in S. Francisco when Goffman was teaching there (must have been Berkeley).  He told me the story of how he was in Goffman's office to ask him to chair his committee when a policeman came in to tell Goffman that his wife had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and died.  Davis went on to say that at that point he saw Goffman’s “backstage” and he could never now ask him to chair his committee – as you know The' insanity of the place' is Goffman's bitter reaction to that tragedy. 



* The Erving Goffman Archives (EGA) is the web-based, open-source project that serves as a clearing house for those interested in the dramaturgical tradition in sociology and biographical methods of research.  The EGA is located in the Intercyberlibrary of the UNLV Center of Democratic Culture,  Postings on the website are divided into four partially overlapping sections:  “Documents and Papers,” “Biographical Materials,” “Critical Assessments,” and “Comments and Dialogues.”  For inquiries regarding the EGA projects, please contact Dr. Dmitri Shalin,  When you cite the materials collected for the EGA, please use the following reference:  Bios Sociologicus: The Erving Goffman Archives, ed. by Dmitri N. Shalin (UNLV: CDC Publications, 2009).