Remembering Erving Goffman

Dean MacCannell

(Dean MacCannell, Erving Goffman (1922-1982). Semiotica. 1983, Vol. 45, Nos. 1-2, pp. 1-33.)

I was finishing a review essay of Goffman’s Frame Analysis when the news of his death reached me. My loss personal as well as professional – Goffman was my introductory sociology teacher at Berkeley in the early 1960’s, later my friend and neighbor in Philadelphia and valued confidant.

. . . .

It is only superficially paradoxical that the student most responsible for deconstructing the self at the level of everyday life should have such a complex reputation, always negative even though no scandal or serious character flaw has been attributed to him. If we list the various claims (both substantiated and the other kind) that have been made against Goffman – cynical, ironical, duplicitous, deceptive, unserious, nonpersuasive – we find they are also the key terms in Sartre’s analysis of “bad faith.” It seems that Goffman took Sartre so much to heart that he assembled a persona for himself exactly on the model of Sartrean “bad faith,” perhaps in the belief that a double negative makes a positive, that is, if he could only mock up bad faith in bad faith maybe he, at least, could escape the determinism he describes so well. Certainly there is evidence in his comportment that Goffman was more concerned than anyone else about the implications of his theory.