Remembering Erving Goffman

Roy Turner:

What Struck Me First about Goffman Was That
He Had an Amazing Elegance in His Delivery



This conversation with Dr. Roy Turner, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, was recorded over the phone on April 4, 2010.  After Dmitri Shalin transcribed the interview, Dr. Turner edited the text and approved posting the present version in the Goffman Archives.  Breaks in the conversation flow are indicated by ellipses.  Supplementary information and additional materials inserted during the editing process appear in square brackets.  Undecipherable words and unclear passages are identified in the text as “[?]”.

[Posted 06-31-10]


Shalin:  [How did you find me and the Goffman Archives?]

Turner:
 [I checked] the University of Nevada and went through a few sites.  But the first one I found, don’t know how, was your interview with Jordan Scher whom I actually knew once.  We’ll get into it later probably. 

Shalin:
  Sure, that’s very interesting.  You’ve seen the conversations posted in the Goffman archives.  

Turner:
 Yes. 

Shalin:  So you can follow the same routine, starting with a few words about yourself, your family, how you came to Berkeley and discovered Erving Goffman, and then we can take it pretty much anywhere. 

Turner:
 I’d like to do that.  I came to Goffman by a very roundabout route.  When I went to graduate school at Berkeley in 1960, I had never taken a sociology course before.  I am British, I was born in South London in 1928.  My family is a working class family.  My parents both left school when they were 14, and when I finished high school, the notion was, “OK, that’s it, time to get a job.”  They had not thought about my getting higher education, which I had on my mind.  Since I started high school, I thought I wanted to go into the biological sciences.  I got myself a job as an assistant in a lab, doing what in those days passed for genetics, assisting by making microscopic slides of chromosome material.  I worked five days a week and attended evening classes at a Polytechnic in London, taking biology and chemistry.  That came to an end because I was conscripted into the Royal Air Force.  (Conscription continued for a number of years after the end of the war).  I spent two years in the Air Force.  When I came out [I realized that] science was not really for me.  I managed to do a full year at a London Polytechnic where I studied English literature, and history, and I thought I would probably go into English.  I knew nothing about social science – isn’t it funny?  It was not well known in England, although we did have the London School of Economics, of course.  

About that time I married my first wife, a young woman, whose parents were refugees from Vienna.  They had spent time in Britain, but they left to go to Chicago, leaving her behind to study.  Our economic prospects were poor, and they invited us to go to Chicago, which I did in 1952.  I had no interst in America.  In fact, I don’t know if you know but after the Second World War there was a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, low level, but it was there.  We had no prospects, we were poor, so I ended up in Chicago, and it was extremely important that my in-laws came to Chicago rather than to any other city because the admission to American universities then, and I suspect now, was very much tied to the transcript, and my background in England wouldn’t look like much on paper.  I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree, and the University of Chicago was an ideal place for me to try to enter.  It was a private university of course, it was very progressive, Robert Maynard Hutchins, who was a dynamic president there, had just left.  First thing he did when he went to the University of Chicago was to take the university out of football, which was a remarkable move, I think.     

Shalin:
  [Laughing] I am sure Herbert Blumer had some thoughts about that.   

Turner:
 He was a football player, wasn’t he?   

Shalin:
  Yes, yes.   

Turner:
 The University would admit qualified students who hadn’t completed high school.  I just naively made my way to the campus, found somebody who would talk to me, and they told me I would have to take what they called the “placement exam.”  I think it was four months off, and what happened to me would depend on the placement exam.  So I got myself a regular job and I studied for the exam and passed it and they gave me money!  I was very fortunate.  I started as a student in the English department and after a year or two I decided, “No this is not for me.”  As you can see, I had lots of stops and starts.  So I started looking around the university to see if I could find something more congenial, and I discovered the social sciences.  The social science division was big and prominent.  I looked at lots of departments, read programs, and there were a number of interdisciplinary committees in the social sciences.  I registered with the interdisciplinary committee called “Theory and Research on Urban and Regional Planning.”  Now, this was a very University of Chicago program, very theoretical; they didn’t just train you to work in the planning profession.  The biggest influence on me at the time was a man called Edward Banfield, political scientist educated at Harvard, and his position was largely anti-planning, which was sort of interesting, for he was a prominent member of the committee.  He was a high-powered man. 

So I got my M.A., and after awhile I went to Berkeley to visit a friend.  When I was there, I looked into the possibility of becoming a student at Berkeley, and as often was the case, it depended on my having some money and having a job.  I managed to get myself hired by Kingsley Davis, who was prominent in the department of sociology.  In those days, he was mostly doing demography, and he hired me.  He happened to be a graduate advisor that year, and with his help I enrolled in the department.  Now, sociology was very new to me, and I started to look around for courses to sign on.  I didn’t have any taste for survey research, which was very popular.  I didn’t find much interst in the work of people like Bendix and Lipset.  I stumbled across two faculty members whose work appealed to me – Smelser and Goffman.  I don’t remember the titles of both Goffman’s seminars I took, but I was immediately extremely impressed by him.  I was very taken.  In retrospect, I think I quickly decided that I’d come across something I would stay with, something where some career stability would begin, which turned out to be the case.   

What struck me first about Goffman, I think perhaps because of my background in literature, was that he had an amazing elegance in his delivery.  I don’t know if other people mentioned this or not. 

Shalin:
  They mentioned that he was a dynamic teacher, but not quite in those terms.  It’s interesting.   

Turner:
 He was very elegant, he had an incredible intensity, and that’s not easy to characterize.  One way of putting it would be [to say] that he was not just giving lectures on materials that he had learned and was passing on, that he was transmitting something.  This was coming from him, from his work, and you could almost get the feeling that it was created on the spot.  Of course, it wasn’t, he had notes, and so on.  Usually, seminars took the form of tryouts for his next book.  They were incredibly intense.  He was not very approachable, as everyone has testified, but [it helped me] discover where I would be in the discipline, in what came to be the sociology of everyday life, of which his work was a prominent example.   

It was Goffman who introduced me to Harold Garfinkel, who was on his reading list.  Goffman had marvelous reading lists.  I had never heard about Garfinkel.  Another thing that turned out interesting was that I picked up some things from Chicago outside my course work, which was easy to do at the University of Chicago, a marvelous place intellectually, which was very open.  I don’t remember now, it was in the 1950s, a long time ago, right?, but I got to know a philosopher in the philosophy department there whose name was V.C. Chappell, and somehow I found myself part of a reading group, reading Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, and I found it fascinating.  I had never encountered such things.  I don’t remember how it happened, but I found myself in contact with Jordan Scher who was doing something, I believe, on existential psychology.  That was fascinating too.  Then I became familiar with what they called the “British ordinary language philosophers,” particularly with J. L. Austin.  And Goffman had Austin on his reading list, How to Do Things with Words.  That stuff that I picked up at the University of Chicago fit into Goffman very easily.  Wittgenstein’s take on language was on the language of speech, not the language of logic.  I thought I could put those things together.  I was lucky to have some very good fellow students in Goffman’s seminars, I especially think of Harvey Sacks.     
Shalin:  Oh, you knew him! 

Turner:
 Quite well.  He died at the age of 39, I think, after an accident.   

Shalin:
  That’s right.   

Turner:
 A brilliant person.  And also David Sudnow – I am sure you know David Sudnow.  He is dead too.  I looked him up a couple of years ago, and he just died.   

Shalin:
  Yes, maybe some three years ago. 

Turner:
 I don’t know of what he died – do you? 

Shalin:
  No, I don’t know. 

Turner:
   He was very aggressive [laughing], put off a lot of people, but very very bright.  He and Harvey Sacks and Schegloff, and a bunch of other people started to form a group within the Goffman circle attached to Garfinkel, really.  Sacks knew Garfinkel.  I think Sacks had a law degree before he came to Berkeley.  He had Garfinkel come to talk to the sociology student club.  That was an extremely interesting evening.  Garfinkel, like Goffman, was his own man, so to speak.  You couldn’t find two men less alike, but Garfinkel resembled Goffman in the way the work came from him, it was his work. 

Shalin:
 You are talking about intellectual resemblance or physical? 

Turner:
  Not physical.  They had in common work that came from them.  Garfinkel was a very quirky man too.  In fact, people who didn’t like him referred to him as paranoid.  He would deal with you in unexpected ways as Goffman would, but not with that kind of wit and sophistication and taking charge.  So that was an important influence out of Goffman’s seminar but partly through students.  And then around that time, Aaron Cicourel came to Berkeley as a visitor, and I became his teaching assistant and we became good friends.  He was very helpful later in my career.  He was an old acquaintant of Garfinkel and a good friend.  He didn’t do the mainstream ethnomethodology, he was a supporter of ethnomethodology.  In those days he had a book on Methods and Measurement.  It was a very good book.   

Shalin:
  Oh, yes, it is a very important statement.   

Turner:
 And then he went on to do – what? – Juvenile justice.  So I had a connection with Cicourel which kept going for many years.  I was in an interesting situation, a student of Goffman, but included in a group of ethnomethodologists, and there was some distance between the two, as you could imagine.  Nevertheless, we were students of Goffman, and we stayed with Goffman, and then Harvey Sacks almost became a teacher for several of us.  He was very impressive intellectually.  At that time he was starting to develop conversation analysis.  It was from Sacks that I first heard about Chomsky.  He used to make references to Chomsky’s book on language.  So I was going to do my work with Goffman, I made a dissertation proposal.  Goffman’s style of dissertation supervision was a very simple one and different from most of his colleagues.  He would accept your proposal and say, “All right, when you have written it, send it to me” [laughing].  He didn’t want to hear from you, he didn’t want drafts or chapters, “Finish it and then give it me.”   

The quirkiness we are talking about, it was evident from the first contact.  There was no interaction with Goffman that proceeded along routine lines.  No standard etiquette, no small talk; he had no interest in being a regular guy.  There would be a lot of stories circulating about him, and you never knew if they were true or not.  They were plausible, they were in character.  One I remember was about Goffman being invited to somebody’s house for dinner.  He arrived and rang the doorbell, he came in and went straight to the kitchen, looked around, picked a bottle of wine, and said, “I thought you would have something like this.”  Then he went back to his car and brought in a bottle of wine.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but you can certainly believe that he did.  It was in character.

I was in his office one day, talking to him, there was a a knock on the door – Goffman didn’t say anything.  It was a new graduate student who opened the door, and he said very loudly, “Hi, Professor Goffman, I am Doug Jones,” and he stuck out his hand.  Goffman stood up, and he looked at the hand, and very slowly the man dropped his hand [laughing].  Goffman just let him stand there with his hand out.  Then very softly he said, “I am busy Mr. Jones.”  When the man left, Goffman said to me, “He doesn’t understand, we are students of those kinds of things.”  I thought it was rather nice.   

Now, I had a Ph.D. exam with Goffman, of course.  The Ph.D. exam at Berkeley was not, as it was in many places, on the dissertation.  It was an exam on the fields of study before you were permitted to do a proposal.  

Shalin:
  Right, a comprehensive exam of sort. 

Turner:
 Right, and it was quite anxiety making.  An exam on your dissertation is, you know, well, you are there.  I had on my committee Goffman, John Clausen – you know of him?

Shalin:
  Yes.   

Turner:
 Herbert Blumer, and the man named Scott Briar from social work, because you had to have someone from outside.  Briar was there because in the previous summer he and his colleague Piliavin hired me to work on a project.  I didn’t realize before I read the [Goffman] Archives that Piliavin was a close friend of Goffman.  I think you talked to his wife.   

Shalin:
  Yes, to his second wife.   

Turner:
  They had hired me for a project on the police and juvenile justice.  They didn’t want to do the fieldwork themselves, so they hired me and I spent the summer riding in police cars in Oakland and San Francisco.  I got along well with them.  So I had Scott on my committee.  I never took a course from Herbert Blumer but I sat on some of his lectures.  I liked him very much, he was very old fashioned, gentlemanly and very theatrical in his presentation, put some people off.  He was big, you know, an ex-football player.  Now, at the exam Clausen was the chair but before he opened the exam, Blumer began to speak, and I remember this very vividly, “I remember my own doctoral orals.  George Herbert Mead was there.  The physicist Michelson.”  Goffman said, “Not Michelson of the Michelson-Morley experiment?”  Blumer said, “Yes, he was the Nobel Prize winner.”  Goffman looked around the room and said, “Boy, they had trees in those days, not shrubbery.”   

Shalin:
  [Laughing]  

Turner:
 True Goffman, right [laughing]?  Anyway, David Sudnow was taking his Ph.D. orals a week before me.  He called me and said that when Goffman arrived, he said to me, “Mr. Sudnow, could you lend me a pen or a pencil?  So I lent him a pen.”  When the exam was over, you left the room and the committee would decide, and then they would come out and shake hands.  Goffman held out his hand with the pen and gave it to Sudnow, and he didn’t shake hands.  He just made the gesture of extending his hand.       

Shalin:
  How do you interpret this?  Was it some kind of Erving’s trick?   

Turner:
 Yes.   

Shalin:
  What did it mean?   

Turner:
 He was extending his hand as though to shake hands, but in fact he was just returning the pen.  And as soon as Sudnow took the pen, the hand dropped.  He didn’t shake hands.   So when I got to my orals a week later, Goffman turned to me and said, “Mr. Turner, could you lend me a pen or a pencil?”  I gave him a pen, and the same thing happened.  It was obviously planned.   

Shalin:
  Why would Erving do that?   

Turner:
 I don’t know if he just didn’t like to shake hands with people or if that was just a way of breaking conventions.   

Shalin:
  Interesting.  The first time around you learned this from Sudnow.   

Turner:
 I heard from him, yes.  Sudnow was very close to Goffman and he was an acute observer.  He called me, “Guess what happened – Goffman was doing this to me, one of his people.”  Another Sudnow story.  In November 1963 he came to the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco where a number of us sociologists went, and while we were there, the news came in to the convention that President Kennedy was just assassinated.  The news spread very fast.  People would be sitting in rooms listening to presentations, somebody would whisper in the back row and they would pass it to the front row.  Sudnow was sitting in the front row next to Goffman, they were listening to somebody talk.  The instant Goffman heard the news, he slapped himself on the forehead and said, “Oh, my God – the stock market!” [Laughing].  Quite spontaneous, right?   

Shalin:
  Yes, but then with Erving you never know.  He didn’t believe in spontaneity.   

Turner:
 But if the president is assassinated, you have to respond.   

Shalin:
  You couldn’t plan for that.   

Turner:
 No, no.  I never met Mrs. Goffman, but I was there when she committed suicide.  Sudnow called me and said, “Look, Goffman is having a wake in his house, we should go and pay our respect.”  We invited a fellow student, an Englishman, Henry Elliot, Sudnow brought his wife.  Four of use went to his house and rang the doorbell.  Goffman opened the door, he looked at the four of us for a minute, silently, and then he said, “And who is this young lady?”  He didn’t know Sudnow’s wife, and that was his first concern – “Who is this young lady?”  Then he invited us in.  The house was full of sociologists, his mother was there, and so on.  I felt quite uncomfortable there, we didn’t stay very long, and we left.  I thought it was an interesting way that he responded to our arrival – who that strange person was. 

Now, I noticed that a few individuals mentioning Sky jumping off the San Rafael Bridge.  Well, at the time I think it was assumed that she deliberately avoided the Golden Gate. 

Shalin:
  Why? 

Turner:
  She would be on the front page of San Francisco Chronicle.  The San Rafael was much less newsworthy.   

Shalin:
  You heard about this interpretation or this is your own sense of it? 

Turner:
  I am sorry, what was your question?   

Shalin:
  Did you hear about Schuyler’s motive in choosing that bridge or is it your own opinion? 

Turner:
  That’s what we talked about, that’s what we thought.    

Shalin:
  OK. That was the common sentiment at the time.   

Turner:
  Yes.  And the question I never knew the answer to was, “Did she do it for Erving’s sake?”  It is possible.   

Shalin:
  That was the question in your mind. 

Turner:
  Yes. 

Shalin:
  She might have been protecting him. 

Turner:
  She might have, yes.  The Golden Gate Bridge is like the center of the USA.  Jumping off the Golden Gate is always big news.  It is in newspapers and on television.  Not that jumping off the San Rafael Bridge is never mentioned, but it is much less newsworthy.  So, who knows.  Anyway, I left to go to UBC to finish my dissertation.  I hadn’t quite finished at Berkeley.     

Shalin:
  When did you defend?   

Turner:
  In 1968.  I went to UBC in ‘65.  The defense of the thesis . . . the comprehensive was big time, the thesis itself was quite a small thing.  I sent it to Goffman and other committee members.  I spoke to Goffman on the phone, and he said, “You have to come down.”   So I went down to Berkeley and spent there a couple of days.  I went to his house the first day, we sat down and spent several hours.  He had done a lot of work in preparation.  He was turning the pages and commenting and asking questions and so on.  I was writing pages of notes.  The same thing in the following day.  

Shalin:
  You came back the following day? 

Turner:
  Yes.  We spent several hours in two days.  I got a lot of notes out of that.  Obviously, you couldn’t take anything for granted with Erving.  I didn’t know what he was expecting me to do in response to those comments, so I asked, “How much of these changes do you require me to do.”  And he shrugged, “It’s up to you.”  [Laughing] “It’s up to you.”  That was it.  I think the understanding at Berkeley was that if your supervisor accepted the thesis, that was good enough for those on the committee.  Clausen was a little disappointed that I didn’t quantify anything.  I really only had to get it past Goffman, and he did make me in a way jump through hoops with all that stuff, but then he did say, “It’s up to you.”  And again, with Goffman you learn to interpret, and I wondered if the unexpressed thought was, “It’s your name that is going to be on it” [laughing].  I don’t know, but that’s the thought.   

In 1970 I went on a sabbatical to England, and before going to London I stopped in France for a while with my wife and two small children.  We stayed in Nice.  One day we had a car went to a small town called Grasse – G-r-a-s-s-e.  We were walking around this little town, I turned around the corner and bumped into someone – it was Goffman.  So we had a chat, and he suggested that we meet at Nice for dinner.   We went to a good restaurant where we had a dinner, and Goffman ate a couple of forkfuls and pushed his plate aside, ate no more.  You might understand if someone is not really hungry or that it isn’t what was expected, but Goffman said nothing, just pushed the plate aside and watched us eat [laughing].  This being Goffman, I had to feel that there was a certain discomfort making thing, “I’ll wait for you while you go ahead and eat.”  It’s not the not eating, it’s no comment.    

Shalin:
  He didn’t bother to situate his behavior in any convention.   

Turner:
  Right.  Yes.  He wasn’t the one obliged to deal with the situation, it was the one who was eating.   

Shalin:
  No narrative was forthcoming to make you feel more at ease.   

Turner:
  No, exactly!  And that was the last time I saw him.  Goffman really changed my career.  When I registered in sociology at Berkeley, I thought I’ve got to do something, but I had no particular interest in what I was going to [pursue] in the department until I took Goffman seminar.  I didn’t find anything that particularly interested me, and as soon as I got into that seminar and connecting to some of my earlier [interests], I really felt that this was going to be it. It was a career changing thing for me.   

I had a fellow student named Carl Werthman [?].  He was at some off-campus social gathering where Goffman was present.  Carl told me that Goffman was talking about some of his students with people who were there, and I don’t know who was there, and he said, “Oh, yes, one of the people I’ve got is an English philosopher type, and god knows what he is going to do.”  That apparently was me, right?  For I connected myself to Austin and ordinary language stuff, which I managed to bring into various papers in a way that was acceptable to Erving.  But I think he did see me as a philosophical type.   

Shalin:
  He must have been interested, or at least not put off.  

Turner:
  He read an enormous amount, and he was interested in a lot of things.  He didn’t have a narrow restrictive interst.  He was an extremely well read man, and a careful reader, I think.  As a teacher, I thought he was first rate – the work and the elegance and the intensity.   But you had to sign on to that.  A lot of people didn’t of course.  And then there was an obvious [feeling] in the department that Goffman’s work was subjective, etc., etc.  I guess, he must have gotten used to hearing that in his earlier days.   

Shalin:
 He had problems defending his thesis, it was so unusual.   

Turner:
  I didn’t know that.  I am not surprised.  I have heard, but I am not sure if it is true, that at Berkeley it was uncertain if he was going to get tenure.  Then, The Presentation of Self got the McIver award, and that got tenure for him.   

Shalin:
  He came to Berkley in 1958. 

Turner:
  It was before.  I started in Berkeley in 1960.   

Shalin:
  That’s two years after Goffman – he came in 1958.   

Turner:
  I left in ‘65.   

Shalin:
  But Goffman joined Berkeley in 1958.   

Turner:
  Oh, ‘58! 

Shalin:
  And he left Berkley in 1968.   

Turner:
  Yes, I left Berkley in ‘65.   

Shalin:
  And you heard that there were problems with Goffman’s tenure at Berkley? 

Turner:
  That I heard, but I cannot say I know it to be true.  I have no reason to think that it wasn’t, but that was a general sense among students.  I came in ‘60, I don’t know when he would have come up for tenure, but Presentation of Self did get the McIver award.  And then he left for Pennsylvania, of course.  Another story I have heard but cannot vouch for, but that was, again, in character, that whoever was running the department at the time said, “Erv, who could you recommend as a good replacement?”  [He said] “Levi-Strauss.”    

Shalin:
  [Laughing] Who asked him?   

Turner:
  The then chair of the department. 

Shalin:  Charlie Glock? 

Turner:
 I cannot remember if it was him.  Oh, yes he was a survey man!   

Shalin:
  Yes.  He was the chair when Erving decided to leave.  Go ahead, Roy.  This is wonderful stuff, and I am so grateful for your sharing that.   

Turner:
  Well, it was big in my life, right?   

Shalin:
  Right, right.   

Turner:
  I have to say that I don’t rate Berkeley nearly as highly as Chicago.  It was a huge state university, something like 20,000 students.  Chicago had something like 6,000, and Chicago was private and progressive.  Berkeley was very bureaucratic.  So it was a good department and experience for me, but the university as a whole did not have that intellectual liveliness that Chicago had.  I didn’t know that Goffman was a student of Everett Hughes.     

Shalin:
  Well, not exactly, but Hughes was on his dissertation committee, and in the end, it was Hughes who helped Erving to pull through the defense.   

Turner:
  Would it be an early version of Presentation of Self

Shalin:
  It was.  That was his dissertation.  It was published in 1956 in England, the Edinburgh edition, and in 1959 it came out as an Anchor edition.   

Turner:
  Yes, which I got.  I didn’t hear of it, of course, till I got to Berkeley. . . .  I took a number of his seminars, and they often seemed the first drafts of his next book.  A lot of work went into them and they were very well presented.  There was one student I knew who said that listening to Goffman’s lecture was like listening to Baroque music.   

Shalin:
  [Laughing] Wonder who did he have in mind – Bach?   

Turner:
  I don’t know! 

Shalin:
  An interesting simile.  

Turner:
  One other story about the student I knew, a student from Argentina taking a course, I don’t know from whom.  He was required to choose a sociological theorist and write an essay on him.  He went to see Goffman and said, “Professor Goffman, I have to write an essay about a theorist, and I decided to write on you.”  Goffman looked at him and said, “Have you considered Max Weber?”   

[Laughter

Turner:
  He was not a cooperative type.   

Shalin:
  He was a cat who walked all by himself.   

Turner:
  Yes!  Yes.  I can’t quite say how it worked, but I somehow think it is important that he was a Canadian.   

Shalin:
  Yes, it is.   

Turner:
  When he spoke, he didn’t sound like a typical American.  He was at the University of Toronto.  The man named Oswald Hall, he was one of Goffman’s teachers.   

Shalin:
  How do you spell his name?   

Turner:
  H-a-l-l.  Oswald – O-s-w-a-l-d.  I ran into him at some meetings, this must be 30 years ago.  I mentioned Erving, and he said, “Oh, yes, I remember him when he was a carhop.”    

Shalin:
  Carhop? 

Turner:
  I take it as someone who parks cars.  That was a new way to think about Erving.  I wouldn’t have seen him in that sort of capacity.  Well, I hope this has been helpful.   

Shalin:
  This is wonderful.  Now, Roy, as I listen to you, I jot down questions.  I don’t want to tire you; if you feel it is too much for one day, we can come back to it later.  If it is OK, I would like to ask you a few questions.   

Turner:
  Yes, I am fine. 

Shalin:
  Are you OK? 

Turner:
  Yes, I am fine.   

Shalin:
  If we could go back a bit – could you tell me if there was any influence that your family might have had on your interst in philosophy and social science?  

Turner:
  No, my parents were typical working class English people.  My father was born in a village in the County of Sussex.  His first job, which he got at 14, was working in the ticket office of the local train station.  I don’t know the details.  After some years he moved up to London, and eventually he got a white collar job with British rail.  He had no intellectual interest at all really.  He and my mother were quiet people, read a lot of popular novels, listened to the radio, and so on.  They had no interest in my getting higher education and no interest in it when I did.

Shalin:
  You were born . . . 

Turner:
  1928 in a place called Croydon on the south edge of London.  

Shalin:
  And you spell it? 

Turner:
  C-r-o-y-d-o-n.  Not technically London, but you wouldn’t know it if you were driving through.  It was an independent town, not suburban in character.   

Shalin:
  How do you account for your emerging intellectual interests?  Any of your high school teachers influenced you?   

Turner:
  In high school most influence on me was from the science people.  That’s why I wanted to study biology.  My parents said, “Hey, it’s time to get a job.  You are finished with school.”  I sort of on my own started to get in contact with places and got myself hired as a lab assistant at a very good institution where they were doing genetic research.     

Shalin:
Where was that?  

Turner:
  It was called John Innes – I-n-n-e-s – Horticultural institute.  That was before the discovery of DNA, but there was a lot of research on chromosomes and genes located on chromosomes, and so I would do technical work making microscopic preparations.  I wasn’t doing the research but I was doing preparations.  I was attending evening classes in botany, zoology and chemistry, hoping to find some way of continuing my education and getting a degree.  And my two years in the Air Force gave me time to rethink.  That’s when I decided it was not for me and that I would switch to what we now call the humanities.  It all came out of me, I didn’t have a teacher who influenced me.   

Shalin:
  Were you reading a lot?  That was quite a switch from biology to ordinary language philosophy.   

Turner:
  Yes, well, that I picked up at Chicago.  As I said, I don’t remember how I got in touch with Vere Chappell.  He was an assistant professor in philosophy, doing this reading group on Wittgenstein.  How I got there, I can’t remember.   

Shalin:
  And you started at Chicago in 1952. 

Turner:
  In 1952 I arrived, then I had to study for the placement exam, in 1953 was when I enrolled.    

Shalin:
  By the way, in 1953 Erving defended his dissertation.  There was obviously no interaction between the two of you at Chicago.   

Turner:
  Like many English people I was utterly ignorant of the social sciences.  It has changed a lot since I left, of course.  At the time, when I was leaving they were just appearing at new English universities.  Now there are lots and lots of universities in Britain, but there were not when I was there.  There was Oxford and Cambridge in London, and Edinburgh and a couple of others.     

Shalin:
  You came to Chicago through your in-laws.    

Turner:
  Yes, I married a young woman whose parents were Jewish refugees in Vienna.  They had an interesting life.  They left Vienna at the last possible moment, and the only way they could get out of Vienna was to go to India.  They spent the Second World War in India, and as soon as it ended, they went to Britain, and their daughter enrolled at an Art School in London.  They did not like Britain and put their names down on the waiting list to go to the USA.  Before I met her [my wife], they got visas and they went to Chicago and he got a job as a textile chemist in Chicago.  So when she and I were not doing well economically, they said, “Why don’t you come to Chicago.  Sure you can do something here.”  It was just by chance that I happened to be in a city with the university that would even look at someone with my strange educational background.  I had one year at Polytechnic in English, Latin, and history, which wouldn’t mean much when universities were looking for a transcript.  I suspect that around many American universities I would be required to do a B.A., but they permitted me to go to graduate school on the basis of the placement exam.   

Shalin:
  So you came to Chicago with the family not to go to college but ended up there.   

Turner:
  I was hoping . . . I knew there was a university there and I thought I would try when I got there, but I didn’t go there specifically to do that.  

Shalin:
  You mentioned the class where you learned about Wittgenstein. 

Turner:
  That was a reading group, not a formal class.   

Shalin:
  And the name of the person who ran this group . . .  

Turner:
  Vere Chappell – Vere C-h-a-p-p-e-l-l. 

Shalin:
  There were a dozen or so people in that reading group?   

Turner:
  Seven or eight.  I don’t remember how they were assembled.  He was a very decent, very nice man, very radical.  In those days there were a number of philosophers, of whom he was one, who I think thought that Wittgenstein would put an end to traditional philosophy.  That was OK with him.  There is a story about him.  Somebody at the philosophy department said, “Well, you take Wittgenstein seriously, that means there will be an end to previous philosophy.”   And he said, “So?”   

Shalin:
  [Laughing] All the better.  Do you remember any other classes and teachers at the University of Chicago who impressed you one way or the other? 

Turner:
  Have you heard of Banfield?   

Shalin:
  I don’t think so.   

Turner:
  Edward Banfield was a political scientist, teaching in the Interdisciplinary Committee on Planning.  He had written a book called Politics, Planning and the Pubic Interest.  He was definitely an anti-planner.  He expressed that very powerfully and eloquently, and he knew his stuff.  That was the first thing in social science that got to me.  I thought that was really well done and interesting.

Shalin:  He was the first to draw your interest to social science.  

Turner:
  Yes.   

Shalin:
  Did you take a lot of classes in philosophy at the University of Chicago?    

Turner:
  No, I didn’t! 

Shalin:
  Officially, your major was . . . 

Turner:
  I got an M.A. with the Committee in Urban and Regional Planning.   

Shalin:
  I see.  Most of your classes were in that area.   

Turner:
  Yes, some were in urban geography.   

Shalin:
  And you graduated in . . . 

Turner:
  I think it must have been . . . I am trying to think . . . it must have been in 1957.   

Shalin:
  It took you three more years to come to Berkeley.   

Turner:
  I took more courses.  I realized that an M.A. in urban planning wasn’t going to get me anywhere.  I was very taken with the University of Chicago.  I really loved it, it was an intellectual environment.  It was pretty open in that if you wanted to take more courses, sure you could take some courses.  I did in fact take some courses in political sciences.  I didn’t take sociology courses until Berkley.   

Shalin:
  So you didn’t know much about the Chicago school of urban sociology.   

Turner:
  Very little.  Not much.  What else did I do?  I would audit courses.  You could audit seminars pretty easily.  If you showed up and said I want to sign up, most faculty would permit that.  Oh, I audited a couple of courses by Edward Shils.   

Shalin:
  What is you impression of him?    

Turner:
  A high powered scholar, very tough and, I thought, a little putting it on as a sort of gentleman (he had a poor background).  A brilliant man, obviously, he was quite patronizing toward students.  I used to see him walking through campus with a silver-headed cane.  Very articulate, brilliant lecturer; I was sitting on a seminar, and he obviously knew the students there, I didn’t.  At one point he was talking about socialism, turned toward one of the students, and said, “And I don’t mean people like you and your little friends, Mr. So and So.”  That’s a putdown, right?   

Shalin:
  Kind of.   

Turner:
  Unmotivated.  It wasn’t called for.  The man hadn’t said anything.  Obviously, Shils knew from previous [encounters] that he was a socialist.  So it was the Committee on Social Thought.     

Shalin:
  But his classes had substance, you learned from them.   

Turner:
  It was very interesting, yes.  I sat in on a couple of things at the Committee on Social Thought.  I don’t think I ever sat in on Hayek’s classes.    

Shalin:
  Who was that? 

Turner:
  Hayek, The Road to Serfdom.    

Shalin:
  Oh, Hayek.   

Turner:
  A conservative economist.  The committee was chaired by a man called John U. Neff.  He grew up at the University of Chicago, his father being a professor, and he got all his education from elementary school on to Ph.D. within the ambit of the University of Chicago.  He had married a pineapple heiress and had a lot of money.     

Shalin:
  I think he might be somehow related to George Herbert Mead, who married Helen Castle, a woman from a very prominent family in Hawaii.  He [or his father] left a memoir about Mead and his son, I believe.    

Turner:
  Neff was important within the university because he was a man with contacts and influence.  He could get people like T. S. Eliot.  When I was there he brought a painter Marc Chagall, whose photograph I took.  I was an amateur photographer.  Neff brought in important people.  It was an interesting committee, conservative and rather restrictive, and so on, but there were some good people.     

Shalin:
  You found at the University of Chicago a very stimulating environment.  

Turner:
  Very much so.  

Shalin:
  You were done around 1957, right? 

Turner:
  Right.  

Shalin:
  And what did you do before you enrolled at Berkeley? 

Turner:
  I sat in on various courses.  

Shalin:
  While you were working? 

Turner:
  Yes, I did do some work.  Originally I went to Berkeley only for a holiday to visit a friend.  Chicago was a very tough place to live in.  Do you know Chicago at all?      

Shalin:
  I read about it, the poor neighborhood and stuff.   

Turner:
  It was situated in a ghetto.  People used to go home from the library at night in groups if possible.   

Shalin:
  Was it among the reasons you didn’t do your graduate work at Chicago?    

Turner:
  I had done graduate work there – an MA.  It was one reason I wanted to leave the city.     

Shalin:
  Once you came to Berkeley, you realized you wanted to study there.   

Turner:
  I’ll tell you, I went to Berkley from Chicago in December.  It was dark, snowy.  I arrived at Berkeley on Christmas day, walked around with my friend looking at the flowers in the gardens, and I said, “I can’t go back.”   

Shalin:
  [Laughing] I can understand that.  I was born in Leningrad, USSR, came to the US in 1976, repeated my graduate work at Columbia, and came to Las Vegas via Illinois.  I know the feeling you must have had when you landed at Berkeley in the middle of winter.      

Turner:
  Yes, yes.   

Shalin:
  Did you get a scholarship? 

Turner:
  Well, I started working for Kingsley Davis.  I was never his student.  He was a decent man, but I had no interest at all in his work.  Then, I was a teaching assistant for Aaron Cicourel, Neil Smelser, Phil Selznick.  I enjoyed doing that.  Smelser was a good person.  At first I was somewhat [attracted] by Smelser, but then I found his work too abstract.  I really fell into what I call the sociology of everyday life. 

Shalin:
  We’ll get to your Berkeley teachers shortly, but first let me ask you . . . and if I tire you, please let me know.   

Turner:
  No.  That’s fine.   

Shalin:
  Do you remember when you first encountered Goffman’s work – did you read him before you met the man?   

Turner:
  No, I hadn’t read his work.  I was trying out people, and from the very first seminar I thought, “This is the place for me.”  It was an immediate appeal, and I had not known there was such a thing in sociology.  It was he and Smelser.  Smelser I liked too, but his work was Parsonian.  He was a strict Parsonian, and I found him too abstract.  At first I thought I would have Smelser for my theory orals but then I decided to have Blumer because he would be more congenial.  I am glad I did it; he was very good, including that lovely remark about his orals, George Mead, and Michelson.  It was a nice thing for him to do; it sort of set me at ease.  It was before the exam formally began, he was just reminiscing.   

Shalin:
  Right, I don’t want to lose any strand of your story.  You enrolled in the graduate program in sociology at Berkley.   

Turner:
  Yes. . . .   In 1960 I was 32.  I got thinking that I’ve got to settle down on something and get a real career.  Why did I go to sociology?  Partly because I got the job with Kingsley Davis.  The reason he originally hired me [was that] he was going to have a conference on urbanization, he wanted to put it out as a book, and he hired me to edit it.  My background convinced him that I could do that.  In fact, I did do that.  He was a very generous man in many ways.  When the book came out, he put it out under my name as the editor.   

Shalin:
  That was very nice of him.   

Turner:
  So on my CV I have India’s Urban Future.   

Shalin:
  Did he encourage you to sign up for sociology?  

Turner:
  Yes, he did.  I think he preferred to hire research assistants who were students, so I said that I would do that.    

Shalin:
  So your work with him was contingent on your enrolling as a sociology student.   

Turner:
  Probably, yes.  And then I discovered very quickly through Smelser and Goffman that it was all right.   

Shalin:
  It was a god decision.   

Turner:
  It turned out to be, mostly because of Erving.   

Shalin:
  When you signed up for Goffman’s class, did you do it randomly or you had already heard something about him.   

Turner:
  I must have heard something about him.  Perhaps I read The Presentation of Self.  It seemed to me a fascinating book.  Sociology at the time meant mostly survey research or Marxism, neither of which appealed to me.  So when I discovered Erving’s book, I thought, “This is marvelous!”   

Shalin:
  You don’t remember the title of the seminar?    

Turner:
  I don’t remember the title, no.   

Shalin:
  That was 1960. 

Turner:
  It would be 1960 or 1961.   

Shalin:
  It is doubtful you have a syllabus or notes from this class.   

Turner:
  It’s possible, but I couldn’t put my hands on it quickly.    

Shalin:
  If someday you come across that stuff . .  we have a section on our site that houses documents, class notes, etc.  Sherri Cavan – I don’t know if you knew her . . . 

Turner:
  Yes, I knew Sherri. 

Shalin:
  She co-directs the project with me, and she supplied some interesting class materials.  So if you come across something along these lines . . . 

Turner:
  Yes, I will bear this in mind.   

Shalin:
  It is doubtful you have any correspondence with Erving.   

Turner:
  That’s very doubtful.   

Shalin:
  Right, any mementos would be helpful, as we are trying to preserve visual, audio and any other artifacts.  OK, can you sum up what attracted you to Erving as a teacher?   

Turner:
  I have to go back to that word – “elegance.”  It was a real presentation, it was formed, and that’s when my humanities background entered and informed my feelings.  And then the intensity of the man.  I didn’t see anybody using this word, but he was charismatic, really.  He was also off-putting, but he was somebody special you felt.   

Shalin:
  He had a flare, a way with words few sociologists have. 

Turner:
  That’s right.   

Shalin:
  In fact, Erving interests me more from the philological standpoint and as a philosopher than as a sociologist, even if those things are hard to separate.  And being a person trained in the humanities you could sense that.     

Turner:
  Yes.  He was witty.  He had a way with words. 

Shalin:
  He was a wit, also.   

Turner:
  Oh, yes.   

Shalin:
  From that first encounter you felt Erving was not vey approachable.  

Turner:
  Yes. 

Shalin:
  He would let you witness his genius from afar, but not come too close.  What did you do by way of assignments in that class, and what kind of grader was he? 

Turner:
  I remember the first paper I wrote for him, and I have to say I don’t remember much a about the content, it was on psychotherapy.  He liked it a lot.  He gave me an “A.”   

Shalin:
  Did he comment on it?   

Turner:
  I don’t remember.  I was working for Kingsley Davis at the time, and I was with Kingsley Davis when a phone call came through, and he said, “It is for you.”  That was Goffman, “I read your paper, it’s a college try.”   

Shalin:
  College what? 

Turner:
  Try.  I don’t understand that expression.  Don’t know if it comes from football or what.  But evidently, it was complimentary.   

Shalin:
  In 1961 Erving published Asylums, with some papers in that book appearing earlier, around 1959, which had to do with psychiatry.    

Turner:
  I was taken with his Asylums, I shared that perspective.  In fact, I did my dissertation on former mental patients.   

Shalin:
  Your Ph.D.? 

Turner:
  Yes.   

Shalin:
  We’ll get to that.  How many classes did you take with Erving?   

Turner:
  I would say either three or four.   

Shalin:
  All seminars? 

Turner:
  Yes.   

Shalin:
  Each time he would explore the tangents of his new book. 

Turner:
  Yes, they were never repetitive.   

Shalin:
  Unlike Blumer, I understand.   

Turner:
  Oh, I think Blumer repeated himself all the time.   

Shalin:
  Any other memories from these classes?    

Turner:
  I can’t remember anything at the moment.  Maybe I started doing something on former mental patients later on.  I am not sure about that.  I did fieldwork on that.  I came to consider myself for many years as an ethnographer.  I did fieldwork on police with Piliavin.  I rode in police cars in Oakland and San Francisco.  That was fascinating.   

Shalin:
  We might come back to Piliavin, but maybe not today.  The two were close friends.   

Turner:
  I didn’t know that.   

Shalin:
  They used to play cards together.   

Turner:
  Oh, yes.  I was surprised.  Now, this is recorded, right?   

Shalin:
  Yes.  When you read the transcript, you can designate any parts of it as confidential.   

Turner:
  One thing I hesitate to say because we are recorded was that I didn’t think Piliavin was very bright.  So I am surprised the two were friends.  

Shalin:
  They might have been close socially.   

Turner:
  Yes.   

Shalin:
  I have an interview with Piliavin’s second wife who tells about their paying cards together.   

Turner:
  Yes, I read that. 

Shalin:
  Obviously, he was a better card player than Goffman.   

Turner:
  Yes, he was a nice guy.  I liked Piliavin.  He and Briar got the money for a study of police and juvenile justice, but they didn’t want to do the fieldwork [laughing].  But they paid me nicely, so I spent the whole summer doing that, and that was lovely.  As I said, I did think of myself for quite a while as an ethnographer.   

Shalin:
  How did you come up with an idea of your thesis?  Did Erving put you to it? 

Turner:
  I think it was my idea.  Thinking what Goffman had done on psychiatric hospitals, I decided to look at former mental patients.  I became a volunteer at a day hospital in San Francisco where people would come five days a week to be reprogrammed.  These were mostly people who had been at hospitals and now they were on their own.  I served there as a volunteer, I went there every day for quite a while and hung out with them, played games with them, and so on, and then I interviewed them.  I discovered there were former mental patients clubs, and I visited and those and talked to people.  So I did some fieldwork.  There is an English expression, I don’t know if it exists here, “a dog’s breakfast.” 

Shalin:
  No, I don’t know it.   

Turner:
  It means a bit of this and a bit of that.  Some of it I thought was quite good, other parts I would look now and sort of shrug.  But Erving accepted it.  It was a sort of topic he would be OK with because it continued his psychiatric perspective.   

Shalin:
  What you proposed was close to his interst, so I think he should have liked it.  How did you sell your proposal?  What was your main thesis?   

Turner:
  I don’t know if I could formulate the thesis.  It was about the interactional consequences of being a former mental patient.  The thing I came up with and that I thought was the best part of it was what I called “resumability” – could you take up again where you left off with the friends and the family, or would you now be defined interactionally in a way that presumes you could not resume friendships and relationships.

Shalin:  You can’t enter the same family river twice.   

Turner:
  Yes.  That was the real issue for many.   

Shalin:
  I can see Erving very interested in your topic.   

Turner:
  He would have preferred that it would be less [?] influenced by people like Cicourel.  

Shalin:
  Less influenced? 

Turner:
  Yes. 

Shalin:
  We’ll come back to the Cicourel and Harvey Sacks circle in a moment.  But first about your dissertation committee – there was Goffman on it, who else? 

Turner:
  Clausen.   

Shalin:
  Anyone else? 

Turner:
  I think also Scott Briar.  One reason Clausen was on that committee was that I got some money through Clausen.  I don’t know if you knew that Clausen, before he became faculty member at Berkeley, was prominent at the National Institute of Mental Health.   

Shalin:
  Well, Erving worked in his lab at the NIMH.    

Turner:
  Sorry, what? 

Shalin:
  Erving worked at Bethesda under Clausen.   

Turner:
  OK. 

Shalin:
  Their career worked in tandem.  Clausen might have come to Berkeley before Goffman, or they came at about the same time.   

Turner:
  When Clausen wanted to leave NIMH, it was my understanding that Berkeley thought it would be very smart to hire him because he had access to money. 

Shalin:  Do you know when Clausen came to Berkeley? 

Turner:
  I think after Goffman.   

Shalin:
  Goffman, then, might have been instrumental in bringing in Clausen.  

Turner:
  Maybe.  So I got some money through Clausen.  I found him rather dull.   

Shalin:
  What’s your impression of him as a teacher, as a man?    

Turner:
  He was a decent man.  I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t come up with anything quantitative, and he liked things to be scientific in a really scientific way, which of course, doesn’t work with Goffman’s stuff.  He was a decent man.  At my exam where he was a chair, he was making notes on a piece of paper.  Once the exam was over, people came out to congratulate me and left.  I waited to go back because I thought he left his note on the table.  I looked at it and it said, “Pick up laundry, get [lunch ?]” 

Shalin:
  [Laughing] It was his to-do list.   

Turner:
  It was his to-do list.  And I thought he was doing my exam.   

Shalin:
  You didn’t have much personal interactions with Clausen.   

Turner:
  Very little.   

Shalin:
  So you brought in a formal proposal.    

Turner:
  Yes I wrote a formal proposal, and you could only write a proposal after you passed the oral exam.  That was the tough thing, that exam.   

Shalin:
  You had on your orals committee Clausen, Goffman . . .  

Turner:
  Blumer and Scott Briar from the School of Social Work, who was on the project with Irv Piliavin. 

Shalin:
  And how did you find the exam? 

Turner:
  Well, I found it anxiety making.  They can ask anything about your views.  I don’t remember any specific questions, but I felt they weren’t too tough on me.  I felt I came out of it OK.  It took only two minutes before they came out with congratulations.   

Shalin:
  That’s when Erving offered you a pen.   

Turner:
  That’s right, he put out his hand in a way you shake somebody’s hand.   

Shalin:
  You didn’t have much one-on-one time with Erving before you started work on your thesis.  It was mostly course related.   

Turner:
Mostly, yes.  I would go to his office sometimes to talk.  It was on one occasion when the new graduate student came in and introduced himself.  Remember that anecdote? 

Shalin:
  Yes.  The two of you were in the office . . .  

Turner:
  We both were sitting down and talking, there was a knock on the door, the door opened before there was [an invitation] to come in.  It was a big, sort of public relations kind of guy with a big smile on his face, and he stuck out his hand.  He said, “Hi, Professor Goffman.  I am Doug Jones.”  And then Goffman just stared at his hand.   

Shalin:
  Was the man embarrassed?  

Turner:
  I think he was.  It was sort of funny the way his hand slowly went down.  It would be nice to have his picture taken, as it dawned on him he wasn’t going to have his hand shaken.   

Shalin:
  The man was caught at that point.  Putting the hand down meant acknowledging his embarrassment, keeping it extended meant losing face, and Goffman was not about to save the man’s face.   

Turner:
  Yes, yes.  And then he said very quietly, “I am busy Mr. Jones.”  Not like, “I am busy but maybe later. . .”  No, it was, “That’s it, buddy.”   

Shalin:
  The gesture was carefully calculated to make the man painfully aware that he was out of place.

Turner:  Absolutely.  When the man closed the door, Goffman told me, “He doesn’t realize we are students of that kind of thing.”

Shalin:  OK, your early interactions with Goffman were related to class matters and did not extend beyond that.   

Turner:
  Sudnow had a lot of dealings with Goffman.  I didn’t.  You know that Sudnow dropped out of sociology?   

Shalin:
  He had difficulty holding a job. 

Turner:  Yes, but he was also teaching piano.  He taught jazz piano.  He came to Vancouver when I was teaching at UBC, and he told me about seeing Goffman during his final illness.   

Shalin:
  That’s very important.  If you could share your memories . . .  

Turner:
  I believe that Goffman had more than one surgery.   

Shalin:
  I heard different stories of what happened.  According to one, he went to Paris, came back with a stomach pain, which was thought to be an ulcer, and when they opened him up, it turned out to be an inoperable cancer.  David Sudnow visited Goffman at the time? 

Turner:
  He said he had seen Goffman just before he was to have his surgery, and Goffman said, “I think I’ll make this one OK.”  And he didn’t, he died.     

Shalin:
  Do you know if David saw him at the hospital?   

Turner:
  It sounded like it, but I can’t say this for sure.   

Shalin:
  Did you know David Sudnow well?    

Turner:
  I knew him quite well.   

Shalin:
  What impression did he leave on you?  You see, I am trying to salvage as much memory of this generation as possible.  Anything that stands out about David that you care to share? 

Turner:
  Yes.  He was a very aggressive man.  I think he was a tough New York Jew.  I’ll tell you a Sudnow story.  Sudnow was very close to Philip Selznick who gave a seminar together with Jerry Skolnik, a not very well known [sociologist].  It was an evening seminar, and Sudnow was there, and Skolnik and he got into an argument about something.  David told me afterwards that he said to Skolnik, “You don’t know what you are talking about, you schmuck.”   

Shalin:
  That was Skolnik who said it? 

Turner:
  No, Sudnow said this to Skolnik, a faculty member, during the seminar.   

Shalin:
  And David was a student at the time?

Turner:
  Yes.

Shalin:
  Wow, that’s aggressive, all right.    

Turner:
  And he told me, “I went home, and I said to my wife, ‘Start packing, we are going to leave.’” . . .  

Shalin:
  [Laughing] They didn’t kick him out.   

Turner:
  No.  It was typical of David.  He was a very aggressive man, but he was very smart, I liked him.  He did a brilliant dissertation which was published as Passing On:  Death and Dying in Hospitals.  He recruited me into the ethnomethodology group.  He was their missionary.  He and I kept in touch.  We got along very well.    

Shalin:
  You don’t know much about his later years, how he passed from job to job, from wife to wife.   

Turner:
  I really don’t know why.  He gave the impression, without quite saying it, that he decided to give up teaching and do the jazz piano instead.  Maybe it was not the truth, I don’t know.    

Shalin:
  Was he good at it? 

Turner:
  Oh, yes.  He seemed to be happy doing it.  He published a book Ways of the Hand.   

Shalin:
  I know.  I haven’t read it.   

Turner:
  He told me a story about that.  He said, “It got a good review by the music critic at Newsweek.  A lot of people bought it, they read the first two pages, and they gave it up.”  He said he made a lot of money because of the Newsweek review.  I bought the book, I gave up after page two.   

Shalin:
  Is it that he is not a particularly clearheaded writer?  

Turner:
  No, because it is so technical.  I can’t read music, I don’t play the piano.  Parts of it are brilliantly written.  He also wrote a couple of good articles.  One was “Normal Crimes,” maybe in the ASR, I am not sure.  He was very bright and very articulate, but the book on piano was too technical.  He did seem to be enjoying teaching the piano, and he said he met a lot of interesting people this way.   

Shalin:
 Had he met with more success, he might have traded a career as sociology teacher for that of a jazz piano teacher.

Turner:  Yes.  He seemed quite happy with what he was doing.  About a year ago, I decided to look him up, I checked on Google and discovered that he had died.  I never found out what he died of.  Couldn’t have been that old.  He was a bit younger than me, I think. 

Shalin:
  Coming back to your dissertation, was it published?   

Turner:
  No, it wasn’t.   

Shalin:
 I imagine you still have it.   

Turner:
  I still have it, yes.   

Shalin:
  I would love to look it up.  Is it in any library?  You worked on it about the time when Asylums was getting noticed.  I have a theory, which we may come to later to, that his views on mental illness were influenced by his wife’s health.  You know she committed suicide. 

Turner:
  Yes. 

Shalin:
  And then he wrote a paper “The Insanity of Place,” which seemed to be autobiographical.   

Turner:
  I haven’t read that.     

Shalin:
  The symptoms mentioned in this article reproduce in a striking fashion what we know about Schuyler’s illness.  His perspective seemed to have evolved by then.  Now he uses terms like “sickness” and “mental illness” without quotes, the way he did it in Asylums.   

Turner:
  Really?   

Shalin:
  Yes, and in this article he regales a heart wrenching story about living with someone mentally disturbed.   

Turner:
  That’s an article? 

Shalin:
  Yes, you can find it on our web site.   

Turner:
  I would like to read it. . . .  I didn’t know about this change of perspective.    

Shalin:
  It wasn’t a complete about-face, but the change is palpable.   

Turner:
  Now, Jordan Scher knew him, didn’t he?  

Shalin:
  Yes, they worked together at the NIMH.  Did you know him?   

Turner:
  Yes, I met him at Chicago. 

Shalin:
  What were your impressions, and you can redact any part from the final version once you get the transcript of our talk. 

Turner:
  I don’t remember him very well.  I wish I could remember how I came to meet him.  I believe he was doing something on existential psychology or existential psychiatry.  I don’t know how I got to it, but I did get to it.  I only met him a couple of times before I left Chicago.  I liked him, I thought he was very articulate, very bright, and that he had something good going there.  I was sorry to have lost [contact] by having moved.  I have never heard from him since.    

Shalin:
  I can give you his contact info.  He gave an interesting interview, which he supplemented with a memoir about his life and work as a psychiatrist.   

Turner:
  OK.  As I recall, he was very down on Freudian psychoanalysis.    

Shalin:
  And so was Erving at some point.    

Turner:
  That’s right.  

Shalin:
  Even though he read a lot of Freud and might have been influenced by him early on.  The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life bear more than a fleeting resemblance.   

Turner:
  Aha!  That’s right. 

Shalin:
  One Freud’s descendant volunteered that Erving might be the most interesting psychologist of our time, perhaps more relevant today than Freud.  You can find her statement on our site as well.  Coming back to your proposal, you submitted it to your committee members, Erving read and approved it.    

Turner:
  Yes, he didn’t have much to say because he typically didn’t.  He either approved of it or not.  When he read the completed dissertation, he had a lot to say, but then he left it up to me whether to incorporate it or not.   

Shalin:
How much time elapsed between your proposal and thesis defense?   

Turner:
  I defended the dissertation in 1968.  I don’t know when I did the proposal – perhaps in ‘64.     

Shalin:
  It took you about four years to finish it. 

Turner:
  Between the time of submitting my proposal and my taking up my job at UBC I was doing these volunteer activities in the Bay Area. 

Shalin:  You were doing your fieldwork.   

Turner:
  Yes, I did.   

Shalin:
  And you had no interaction with Erving for all these years?  

Turner:
  He did not want any contact over the dissertation from accepting the proposal until the dissertation completion.  I got the impression that that was typical of him.  When I supervised dissertations, I would have students give me drafts of their chapters and say, “Is this all right?  What do I do next?” and so on – nothing was like that with Erving.   

Shalin:
  He was happy to have you jump in the pond and see if you can swim to the shore.   

Turner:
  Right, right. 

Shalin:
  And teach yourself how to do it.  He wasn’t into holding your hand.   

Turner:
  Exactly!  He wasn’t a hand holder.   

Shalin:
  That’s why not everyone did well with him.  You know John Irwin? 

Turner:
  Yes. 

Shalin:
  He has a memoir on our site.  He said he left Erving out of his dissertation committee and orals because he heard that he could be tough on students.     

Turner:
  Is he still alive? 

Shalin:  No, John died a few months ago.   

Turner:  I knew a lot of the people you’ve interviewed – Jackie Wiseman, Garry Marx, John Lofland.

Shalin:  You knew him?

Turner:  I knew John Lofland.  I don’t think I knew his wife – Lyn, right? 

Shalin:  Right.  We’ll get to that in a moment, but if you are tired . . .

Turner:  No, I am fine. 

Shalin:  In these four years you were working, collecting data, and taking more classes?   

Turner:  No, I was not taking more classes.  I was collecting data, and then I began to teach at UBC in 1965. 

Shalin:  You defended in 1968, the year Erving left for Pennsylvania. 

Turner:  I don’t remember which month I went down there, but he was still at Berkeley. 

Shalin:  It could have been spring of 1968?

Turner:  It well could have been. 

Shalin:  You brought to Erving the entire text.

Turner:  I mailed it to him, and after a while he phoned me and said, “You have to come down.”  He wouldn’t say anything about it on the phone.  And the way he put it, “You have to come down.” 

Shalin:  You must have been anxious. 

Turner:  Yes, but I knew I had to go down.   

Shalin:  Did it sound a bit ominous?

Turner:  A little bit. . . .   I went to his house on two separate days. 

Shalin:  Was it the first time you visited him at his home?

Turner:  Apart from going to the wake. 

Shalin:  Do you have any more memories of the house?

Turner:  It was a very nice house at a lovely location.  It was on the hill overlooking the Bay.  I don’t have much by way of details, but it was a fine house in a fine location. 

Shalin:  You came over and Erving started giving you the feedback. 

Turner:  We sat at a table together, and he had the dissertation in front of him, and I had a notepad and I was writing comments, which he put a lot of work into. 

Shalin:  What kind of questions he had?   Was it to clarify what you meant, substantive criticism, do you remember? 

Turner:  All of the above. 

Shalin:  It was a very close reading, with suggestions, comments, and so on.

Turner:  Yes.

Shalin:  And it was helpful. 

Turner:  It was helpful.  And I did incorporate a fair bit into my revisions, not all of it. 

Shalin:  Nothing comparable was forthcoming from John Clausen.

Turner:  No.  Fortunately, I think, because his would have been much harder to deal with.  He really was a science man. 

Shalin:  Did Erving point you to any of his work when he commented on your thesis?

Turner:  No, he didn’t. 

Shalin:  Then you submitted the final draft. 

Turner:  Yes, but I doubt he looked at it again. 

Shalin:  Did you have any interactions with him after that meeting?

Turner:  No, the next time I saw him was when I bumped into him on a street in France. 

Shalin:  In 1970, I believe.

Turner:  Yes, when I was on sabbatical. 

Shalin:  No congratulations, no niceties of any kind.   

Turner:  Not really.

Shalin:  Did he write any recommendations for you? 

Turner:  I would think he must have.   Yes, when I applied for a job at UBC, it was a combined department of anthropology and sociology . . .  

Shalin:  UBC stands for . . .

Turner:  University of British Columbia.  The department head – it was called “head” and not “chair” – the department head was an anthropologist.  He came down to Berkeley for something, and he interviewed me.  I believe he talked to Goffman.  So I think he got a recommendation in conversations. 

Shalin:  He must have contacted Goffman on his own. 

Turner:  Right. 

Shalin:  Presumably, it was positive. 

Turner:  Oh, it must have been.  Yes.  One of my biggest referees for a long time was Aaron Cicourel. 

Shalin:  You were closer to Cicourel.  

Turner:  Yes, he and I were friends. 

Shalin:  By the way, Aaron has a nice memoir posted on our site. 

Turner:  Oh, good.  OK.

Shalin:  And then, between ‘68 and ’70, there were no communications between you and Erving.  Do you remember which part of the year you met him in France? 

Turner:  I think it would have been late spring, but I can’t be sure, in a little town called Grasse.  

Shalin:  Was he by himself there?

Turner:  Yes, he was by himself.  And we literally bumped into each other.  I walked round a very sharp corner, and I banged into somebody.  We stood back and we looked at each other, and I remember he said, “Good Christ, it is Roy Turner!” 

Shalin:  Speaking of serendipity.   

Turner:  Yes.  Then he suggested the dinner. 

Shalin:  He must have been pleasantly surprised meting you. 

Turner:  Oh, yes.  He was pleasant. 

Shalin:  I remember the story of your dinner – there was no explanation about his refusal to eat, right?

Turner:  Yes, he just pushed aside his plate.

Shalin:  Do you remember anything you talked about on that occasion?

Turner:  No, I don’t. 

Shalin:  Nothing memorable.   

Turner:  No, no.  And my family was there.  

Shalin:  The family was with you at this dinner?

Turner:  The family was with me. 

Shalin:  Your wife and two children.  

Turner:  Yes, I think the children came to dinner.  I am not sure.  Possibly we got a baby sitter.  But my wife was at the dinner, he did not know her.  

Shalin:  And that was the last time you met him.

Turner:  Yes.  The last time I had any direct news of him was when David Sudnow told me about his death. 

Shalin:  If you don’t mind me backing up a bit, Roy, could you limn a few Berkeley faculty members’ and fellow students’ portraits?  

Turner:  Yes. 

Shalin:  You mentioned Smelser whom you liked but whose work was a bit too abstract for you. 

Turner:  Yes, I liked him.  I thought he was a good teacher, a responsible teacher.  I had to take, as everybody did, the methodology courses with a man named Hannen Selvin.  I am not interested [in that] but I did fairly well.  Selvin was OK.  Interestingly, the methodology course was the only graduate course which had a teaching assistant, because teaching assistants are for undergraduates.  But methodology course had lots of home work and so they thought it should have a teaching assistant, even though the teaching assistant would have to be a fellow graduate student.  And in fact to my surprise, after the course, he offered me a position of teaching assistant for the following year.  I said no, because I had not interested whatsoever in doing methodology. 

Shalin:  He saw you as diligent, studious, so he offered . . .

Turner:  Yes, I got through it well, but it was a grind. 

Shalin:  You said you knew Philip Selznick.

Turner:  Selznick was a good man.  He taught an introductory course, and he took it seriously and did it well.  It was a large course, and there were a lot of teaching assistants, maybe five or six of us.  I had the position of making sure that all of the others were doing their job.  I was a head teaching assistant.  I think I got along with Selznick very well. 

Shalin:  You didn’t have much interaction with Lipset or Bendix. 

Turner:  None.  Lipset I had not interest in whatsoever.  Another faculty member I never took a course from but sat in on the lectures was Leo Lowenthal.  He was an old fashioned German, he knew his stuff, but I wasn’t particularly interested in the material. 

Shalin:  Even though he must have had some philosophical background.   

Turner:  Yes.  He came out of the Frankfurt [School].

Shalin:  And you sat in on Blumer’s classes. 

Turner:  Yes, I heard his lectures.  He was theatrical, and I would say somewhat dogmatic.  It is hard to avoid saying that – the line according to George Herbert Mead.  But he did it very well.  He was completely immersed and dedicated.  He came across as a gentlemanly teacher.  I liked him.

Shalin:  Would you mind sharing your impressions about Harvey Sacks and his circle?  Not that much has been said or written about that, and you were part of it.  And also your thoughts about Garfinkel.

Turner:  Yes.  Sacks was one of the most brilliant people I ever met.  I was very taken with him.  He was a bit strange. 

Shalin:  In which way?

Turner:  I think he had no doubt about his brilliance.  He wasn’t arrogant.  He had an intensity, too.  He really did become something of a teacher for some of us, even though he was a student.  I visited him once years later when he was teaching at Irvine.  I stayed with him for a couple of days.  He was a very decent guy, he was very friendly.  But mostly what I got from him was some of his writings.  I must say, of all the people in sociology I met at various stages of their careers, the two that impressed me the most were Garfinkel and Sacks. 

Shalin:  More so than Goffman?

Turner:  Yes, intellectually.  I mean Goffman was certainly impressive.  He would be way up there, but I would put them just a bit ahead. 

Shalin:  Given your interest in Austin, Searle, and others, I see why you would gravitate toward a more philosophical brand of sociology.   Erving is a more ethnographic type.  

Turner:  Yes.  Goffman was absolutely crucial for my career.  And Garfinkel I didn’t come to know well.  It is very hard to come to know Garfinkel very well, I would think. 

Shalin:  Why?  Could you sketch his portrait? 

Turner:  Yes.  By the way, he is still alive.  He is 92, I believe.

Shalin:  If not older. 

Turner:  I will tell you an interesting Garfinkel story.  There was a meeting, I forgot where it was.  There was a panel where Garfinkel was to speak about ethnomethodology.  It was chaired by Larry Whitman, as student of Harold, who was close to him and obviously deeply respectful of him.  Well, to my surprise, when Garfinkel stood up, he started to read from his [article on] ethnomethodology of 1956.  This was probably in the 1980s.  It was good material, but I thought he would present something newer.  Anyway, he was going on and on, and it was taking a long time.  At some point he stopped and turned to Larry and said, “Am I going too long?”  I’ll tell you what Larry said.  You aren’t going to believe this.  Larry said, “Oh, no, Harold!  We took a vote and we would like you to continue.” 

Shalin:  [Laughing]

Turner:  Garfinkel said, “Oh, you did!  Thank you.” 

[Laughter]

Turner:  You have to be something like Harold to say something like that.  I mean I couldn’t say something like that if I were talking too long.  But Harold said, “Oh, you did!” 

Shalin:  So Harold was not full of himself?

Turner:  He was very in-turned, I think.  I was at a conference in New Orleans . . . I have to go back a bit.  There was a student at York University.  After I retired from the University of British Columbia I did some part time teaching at York University in Toronto, teaching graduate courses.  There was a graduate student there named Keith Doubt who had discovered that in the 1940s Harold had written a short story.  Keith Doubt had read it and he had written and published a piece, saying that this short story somehow foreshadowed ethnomethodology.  Apparently, Harold hated it.  I was at the conference in New Orleans, having coffee with Keith and while we were talking, Harold saw me and come over to say hello.  I said, “Harold, have you met Keith Doubt?”  And he hadn’t met him.  But he said, “Yes!!,” like that – “Yes!!”  And he moved to the side and looked only at me and talked to me, ignoring Keith completely. 

Shalin:  There was none too hidden agenda. 

Turner:  What he hated was that Keith had written about the short story. 

Shalin:  Was Harold concerned about the issue of the field’s origins?

Turner:  I think so. 

Shalin:  He was self-conscious about being the founder of ethnomethodology.   

Turner:  Yes, he was.  He had this thing he called his “schmuck detector.”  If someone told him, patronisingly, that he found Harold's book interesting, Harold would say, “Really, what was it you found interesting about it.”  But he was always difficult with people.  People would say he was paranoid.  Had you come across the name “Mel Pollner”?

Shalin:  No, I haven’t.

Turner:  Mel Pollner would have been in some of Goffman’s classes.  He left to go to Santa Barbara.  Vey very nice man, very sweet.  He ended up teaching at UCLA, and he was very close to Garfinkel.  He told me he once knocked on the door of Harold’s office, he heard noises and he sort of looked up.  Harold was standing on the chair looking through transom to see who was there.  That’s a bit strange. 

Shalin:  The name of that person is spelled . . .

Turner:  Melvin – M-e-l-v-i-n.  Pollner – P-o-l-l-n-e-r.  

Shalin:  Harold might have had some social disability, lacked social graces.

Turner:  Yes.  Like Goffman he had no small talk.  He didn’t deal with people the same way Goffman did, but he didn’t have small talk, he was quirky. There was a sociologist at Berkeley who hadn't finished his UCLA dissertation, and was urged to do so. When Harold was asked if he would serve on the committee, he is said to have replied, “as long as I don't have to read the dissertation.”  There was a conference in Edinburgh, probably around 1971-1972.  There were a number of people in ethnomethodology.  Harvey Sacks was there, and I went.  Harold had been invited, and he called me at Vancouver, and he told me, “I have a feeling that they are out to get me,” and he didn’t go.   

Shalin:  He meant it, it was no joke. 

Turner:  It was no joke.  No, no, he meant it. 

Shalin:  Did you hear a story about Harvey Sacks’ dissertation?  There was a bit of a controversy about it.  Many Schegloff recounted how Erving wouldn’t let the dissertation proceed and how Aaron Cicourel had to interfere and ask Goffman to step aside. 

Turner:  No, I didn’t hear that.  It’s interesting.  I wish I had known that. 

Shalin:  Manny Schegloff tells the story in the intro to Harvey’s Lectures.  Aaron Cicourel’s memories are different, though. 

Turner:  I always thought that Harvey and Goffman got along pretty well because I think Goffman respected Harvey’s talent. 

Shalin:  They followed each other’s work.  Any other portraits of those close to Harvey’s circle, Sherri Cavan or Gary Marx, for instance?

Turner:  I didn’t know Sherri Cavan very well.  I liked her.  I thought she was a good soul.  I knew her stuff, I liked her dissertation.  Jackie [Wiseman] I didn’t know very well.  Do you know the guy by the name Marvin Scott?

Shalin:  I know about him but I was unable to get a hold of him.    

Turner:  I don’t know if he has retired or not. 

Shalin:  He has retired. 

Turner:  He did his dissertation with Erving on horse racing.    

Shalin:   What’s your impression about the man?

Turner:  A character.  I was quite friendly with him; he was a good friend, I liked him, we spent a good deal of time together.  But I thought he was more of a character than a sociologist.  He had a bit of a journalist background, I think.  He would do a bit of a caricature of things, in my opinion.  He did his dissertation on horse racing, it was called “The Racing Game.”  I don’t know if he had more contact with Goffman, I tend to doubt it.  He and I used to go to the races together.  Again, I am thinking of your recording, but I never took him too seriously. 

Shalin:  You can delete it later on.   

Turner:  OK, I appreciate that.  I liked him, he was an interesting person and a good friend, but I never took his work particularly seriously, although he did a good job with the racing game, I think.    

Shalin:  And Garry Marx?   

Turner:  I didn’t know him very well.  I read his thing in the [Goffman] Archives, which I thought was very good, thoughtful.  Who else – I can’t remember anybody else at the moment.   

Shalin:  Does the name Rodney Stark ring any bell? 

Turner:  Yes, I knew Rodney, but I don’t think he was a Goffman man.  

Shalin:  He was not.  He was a survey man. 

Turner:  Yes, probably with Glock or Lipset. 

Shalin:  You didn’t have much interaction with him. 

Turner:  Very little.  

Shalin:  John Lofland.   

Turner:  John Lofland was a Goffman man.  Serious, a bit heavy intellectually, a bit ponderous.  But he was a prominent student there.  I don’t know, he is still teaching somewhere, I take it.   

Shalin:  No, he has retired.  He was at San Diego [Lofland taught at UC Davis]. 

Turner:  I guess most of those people retired. 

Shalin:  That’s true.  Are you still teaching?   

Turner:  No, I wish I was still teaching.  I had a mandatory retirement at the University of British Columbia when I was 65, and I immediately moved to Toronto, which is my favorite city in Canada.  I taught at York University for a number of years on a part time basis.  Then it dried up, so I am no longer teaching.   

Shalin:  Any memories of John Irwin? 

Turner:  I can picture him physically, but I don’t have much memory of him. 

Shalin:  Did you hear the circumstances surrounding Erving’s ASA presidency?   

Turner:  I didn’t know anything about it, how it came about.  I would have thought a lot of members of the ASA would not have wanted him as president. 

Shalin:  He was elected ASA president.

Turner:  Yes, and it did surprise me.  

Shalin:  You wouldn’t have any theory on why would Erving wanted to be ASA president? 

Turner:  No.  Both things surprised me – that he was elected and that he would take it.  I suppose even Erving liked to have some recognition.  That’s the only thing I can think of. 

Shalin:  Does the name Joan Emerson ring any bell?   

Turner:  Yes, I am trying to recall her. 

Shalin:  I’ve heard that she was the person who removed Erving from her committee, although it is unclear what exactly had happen.  

Turner:  I remember her name but I can’t particularize her.  I am sure I knew her slightly, but I can’t dredge any memories of her.

Shalin:  What about Many Schegloff?

Turner:  I found him very formal, not easy to talk to.  He and Harvey were very close.  I was never close to Manny.  He was bright, he was in many of those seminars, but his formality I found a little off-putting.  I don’t know if you knew that, but he and Sudnow had a violent falling out. 

Shalin:  What happened?   

Turner:  It had something to do with Harvey’s work.  I have to be careful, I can’t be sure, but according to Sudnow, Schegloff claimed to be a co-discoverer of conversation analysis.  Sudnow said it was not true, it was only Harvey.  Without a lot of knowledge here – and again, I have to be careful – I tend to agree with Sudnow. 

Shalin:  Manny edited Harvey’s lectures.   

Turner:  Yes, and he was the right person to do it, he was very close to Harvey, and they certainly worked together. 

Shalin:  You say the fallout between Sudnow and Schegloff was violent – you mean intellectually violent?  

Turner:  Well, quarrelsome.  That’s where Sudnow’s aggressiveness appeared.  I think he was very nasty to Schegloff.  I think he was, yes. 

Shalin:  So it was a host of issues of editing, authorship, control over the manuscript, and so on.

Turner:  Yes.  I think it was quite appropriate that Manny was the editor.  As for the question of co-authorship, I can’t say, but I think Sudnow quarreled with him about that, he thought he was claiming what he had no right to claim. 

Shalin:  Were you at the hospital when Harvey was lying in a coma? 

Turner:  I was in England on sabbatical at the time.  Somebody phoned to tell me.  It was a single car accident, right?     

Shalin:   I think so, I am not sure.  There was a vigil at the hospital, everybody waited for the family to fly in.  Leo Goodman, Harvey’s cosine was there. 

Turner:  Oh, yes, Leo Goodman, a statistician.    

Shalin:  He offered an interesting take on Chicago sociology, which is also on our site.  OK, you mentioned the wake at Erving’s house after Schuyler’ death.  Who organized that group you were part of?

Turner:  I was only in the house for about 10 minutes.  There were many people there.  A lot of sociologists from all over came in to be with Erving.  

Shalin:  Sherri Cavan also mentions this wake.   

Turner:  She wasn’t there when I was there.  We’d been there at different times.

Shalin:  It was a day long affair?

Turner:  Oh, I think it was.  A lot of sociologists, and my impression was that a lot of them came from some distance.  His mother was there.  As I said, I went only with Sudnow and his wife and Henry Elliot who was a student who dropped out later. 

Shalin:  Wonder if he could be contacted.  

Turner:  He was a fellow Englishman, an interesting man.  He had a bad stutter.  He had a mixed feeling about the department and about Erving.  He dropped out, and I think it broke up his marriage, and I think he left Berkeley. 

Shalin:  I’ll try to locate him. 

Turner:  I doubt very much if he ever ended up with a teaching position, but I do not know it for a fact.

Shalin:  He may have some memories of Berkeley. 

Turner:  He certainly would have memories of Berkeley and of Goffman.  He used to say that Goffman was “nasty, brutish and short.”  I thought that was a cheap remark.  Certainly Erving could be nasty, but brutish he was not.

Shalin:  If you find him, please give me a word.   

Turner:  I’ll give it some thought. 

Shalin:  Would you say there were 40-50 people at this wake?

Turner:  Oh, yes.  The house was full. 

Shalin:  Do you have any more memoires of Erving at this gathering?

Turner:  No, he was very subdued.  And he made this rather strange remark when he came to the door to let us in, “Who is this young lady?” 

Shalin:  Do you see it as Erving’s reacting automatically to an odd situation? 

Turner:  Yes.  I found it rather strange because it had nothing to do with the situation. 

Shalin:  You stayed for about 10 minutes and then left.

Turner:  Yes, I didn’t feel very comfortable there.  It was Sudnow’s idea to go, I went along, but I felt out of place there.  I particularly remember that there were a lot of sociological conversations going on [laughing]. 

Shalin:  You must have heard what had happened with Schuyler – any lore, any stories come to mind?  

Turner:  No.  I must say I never heard stories about Goffman’s relations with his wife.  She had money, right?  

Shalin:  She came from a very prominent family in Boston.  And you probably never met his son.

Turner:  No, I never met him either.  He is a doctor now?

Shalin:  Yes, he is an oncologist. 

Turner:  Oh, yes?  Interesting. 

Shalin:  I am winding this down, Roy, and you have been terrific.  I want to ask your mature take on Goffman the scholar and the man.  I have this hypothesis I am playing with, and maybe you can talk me down.  My hunch is that once Erving discovered the coercive power of conventions and the phony side of society, he must have been affected by this discovery.  Some of his abrasiveness might have been a way to explore and react to the staged character of our lives, and vice verse, his own shtick might have driven his insights.  Any thoughts you may have on the existential dimension of his life’s project. 

Turner:  I don’t know the answer to that, but my preference would be for the second, that it was his way of approaching life that led him to his work. 

Shalin:  And what is the connection here, what is it about Erving the human being that drove his theory?  Some people hinted that his stature might have been a factor.  How tall would you say Erving was?

Turner:  Oh, I don’t know, maybe 5’3.  Everyone knew that Erving was short.  He had to be very aware of it.  He was shorter than just about everyone else around. 

Shalin:  So you feel that something about Erving’s existential moorings tuned him on to this facet of social life.

Turner:  I would think so.  I mean it seems to me he really had a deep instinct for the stuff he studied, very deep. 

Shalin:  It was personal with him.

Turner:  Yes, I think so.  That’s what I meant when I said his teaching came from within.  It was not simply the subject matter that he was teaching – it was his view of the world. 

Shalin:  That’s what I propose in my work on biocritical hermeneutics.  Most of us pick up a discourse, settle on an existing paradigm, and then work our way inside it.  But those gifted with sociological imagination are not afraid to ride an emotion and let their personal experience drive them past the familiar theoretical terrain all the way to a new way of seeing and conceptualizing experience.  Erving let his imagination flair in ways that defied the sociological conventions and made his academic career somewhat precarious.  I just posted on the web my interview with Erving’s sister and other relatives who offer a fascinating take on the origins of sociological dramaturgy.  You might want to look it up some day. 

Turner:  Is she alive?

Shalin:  Yes, she is three and a half years older than Erving.  I just attended her 90th birthday.  She is a famous Canadian actress, believe it or not. 

Turner:  Really?  What is her name?

Shalin:  Frances Bay.  She was in the movies like “Happy Gilmore,” on Jerry Seinfeld and other shows where she usually plays grandmotherly types.    

Turner:  OK!

Shalin:  Just to wrap it up – you say that Erving’s scholarship was and still is important to you.   

Turner:  Oh, yes. 

Shalin:  What is particularly enduring in his insights?  And did your judgment of his scholarly corpus change over time? 

Turner:  Well, I did tend to withdraw from it under the influence of Garfinkel [who] was the more philosophical.  I think what immediately attracted me was his attention to what we would call today “everyday life,” which was not a lot of in sociology then, I don’t think.  That really seemed to me like a very important way of thinking about sociology and its relationship to the world, and that has stayed with me.  I sort of shifted away from Goffman because of Garfinkel, but I never denied that Goffman was so important in [starting ?] my career.  I wouldn’t have missed having this experience with Goffman. 

Shalin:  So it is the attention to the quotidian, quantum level social reality that was formative in your intellectual development. 

Turner:  Oh, yes.  I was very taken with The Presentation of Self.  I didn’t have any pseudo-scientific objections to [studying] the subjective.  I knew what he was talking about.  

Shalin:  I wonder if the readers who are young, who are on their way up, are particularly taken with his perspective, for they know what it feels like trying to fit, to make the cut.  Once we have settled, we may be less dependent on the conventions, more secure, more willing to defy expectations and improvise.  I feel that Erving had something of an impostor complex.

Turner:  I could see one going that way. 

Shalin:  You mentioned that you have your thesis somewhere. 

Turner:  I must have it. 

Shalin:  If you come across it and care to share a chapter to two, or maybe even the entire text, please let me know.  Since your dissertation was not published, it makes sense to add it to your site, make it available to scholars.   

Turner:  I’ll see what I can come with, Dmitri. 

Shalin:  Before we part, where are you right now in terms of your intellectual career, your personal situation? 

Turner:  I am no longer teaching.  I have been doing stuff I never did when I was teaching.  For example, one of my interests for a long time had been – you know the French artist Marcel Duchamp? 

Shalin:  Yes, the one who exhibited the urinal. 

Turner:  Yes.  There is a philosopher Arthur Danto, a big name in the philosophy of art.  He takes the position that once the urinal has been exhibited in the galleries, art had to be redefined to include what the urinal had stood for.  And he came to the position that whatever the members of the art world define the art is, is art.  

Shalin:  Once it has been framed and turned into a conversation piece by the relevant public, it becomes an art object. 

Turner:  Yes. 

Shalin:  But the paradoxes abound here.  You frame a piece of garbage and start talking about it, and there you have an instant art piece.  You can look at Rafael and say nothing, even if some narrative swirls around it.  Can you stand and look at the urinal and say nothing?  It is harder to envision such a prospect. 

Turner:  I wrote a piece about that, critiquing Danto’s position.   

Shalin:  Maybe you can send me the reference.  

Turner:  I published it in a British journal Philosophy Now.  It is an interesting journal, not for the philosophers but for the general public.  And I’ve just written another piece which I sent them, on experimental ethics.  I don’t know if you came cross this term.

Shalin:  No, situation ethics? 

Turner:  It looks to experimental social psychology.

Shalin:  You might say that Erving Goffman was an experimental ethicist. 

Turner:  Yes, but of a different sort.  There is the Princeton philosopher Appiah – A-p-p-i-a-h, who wrote a book on experimental ethics, and he relies on experimental social psychology.  I had written a critical piece about that and sent it to the same journal.  I have not heard back from them yet. 

Shalin:  Great, you are intellectually agile.  My training was in philosophy before I drifted to sociology, and when I came to this country, I blended the two.  There is one piece I wrote, “Signing in the Flesh,” that articulates a theory of pragmatist hermeneutics.   I laid there out the agenda for biocritical studies that nourished my interest in Goffman.  It is about the manner our theories feed on our emotional experience and vice verse.  

Turner:  All right, I would be very happy to see that.  Now, should I call you when I am in Las Vegas? 

Shalin:  By all means!  Call me when you are here. 

Turner:  Give me your phone.  Maybe we’ll have coffee or something.

Shalin:  Thank you so much Roy!   

Turner:  Thank you, Dmitri. 

Shalin:   I should send you the transcript as an attachment once it is ready, right?

Turner:  That would be fine.  I don’t have Word – can you send it in PDF? 

Shalin:  OK, I will print it as a PDF file.  And you check your email.

Turner:  Sure. 

Shalin:  Great.  Thank you so much.

Turner:  Thank you, Dmitri.

Shalin:  Bye-bye.

[End of the recording]

 


* 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, http://www.unlv.edu/centers/cdclv/archives/interactionism/index.html.  Postings on the website are divided into several overlapping sections: “Documents and Papers,” “Goffman's Publications,” “Goffman in the News,” “Biographical Materials,” “Critical Assessments,” and “Comments and Dialogues.”  For inquiries regarding the EGA projects, please contact Dr. Dmitri Shalin, shalin@unlv.nevada.edu.  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).