Sherri Cavan and Dmitri Shalin

Selected Correspondence, 2008-2009

Dear Professor Cavan:

I am writing to you at the suggestion of Ruth Horowitz and Eviatar Zerubavel and in connection with the Erving Goffman project.  Located in the Intercyberlibrary,, this web based archive collects biographical materials and interviews with Goffman’s colleagues, students, and friends.  I am attaching a paper on the interfaces of Goffman’s life and work that I gave at the ASA meeting in Boston and that sets up the Erving Goffman project (the paper is also posted in the Intercyberlibrary,

I just posted on the web the interview with Eviatar who recounts his experience of writing his dissertation with Goffman (  Your name comes up in his interview as someone who took a class with Goffman, hence my question to you.

If you have written anything on Goffman’s work and life, I would be grateful for the reference.  I would like to add your publications to the section that houses assessments of Goffman’s scholarship.  Also, I wonder if you might be willing to share your reminiscences about Erving as a teacher and scholar. 

Clearly, you may have neither time for nor interest in this project, but if you care to share your reminiscences – over email, over the phone, or in person – I would be most grateful.  Needless to say, your reminiscences, should you be willing to share them, can be off-the-record. 

Under a separate cover, I send you my article “Signing in the Flesh” that lays the theoretical groundwork for this project.

With good wishes,

Dmitri Shalin
Professor and Director
UNLV Center for Democratic Culture

Tel.  702-895-0259
Fax: 702-895-4800

Professor Shalin----

as you see, I am in receipt of your e-mail.

I transferred to UC Berkeley in 1961 from UCLA.  I did a BA and a MA in sociology as a student of Harold Garfinkel, which is of course a story in itself.  Garfinkel had read the University of Edinburg Press edition of the Presentation of Self (which preceded the popular Anchor edition) and through a Garfinkelian rouse, I managed to procure a copy and read it.  Needless to say, I was very impressed.  Garfinkel said Goffman learned all he knew about social order by breeching it, a topic that Garfinkel was very interested in.  When I decided to go on for a Ph.D. Garfinkel gave me a letter of introduction to Goffman (whom he knew only slightly at that time).

As you know it was not easy to become a student of Erving Goffman but my connection with Garfinkel opened the door to him and a very select group of his students – Sacks, Schegloff, Sudnow, Roy Turner, a guy named something Elliot and probably a few others. Sometimes on Sunday evenings we would meet at Sacks apartment and talk about the various work we were doing. We also had a formal seminar with Goffman where we discussed [our] work that would become our dissertations. In the ensuing years I took at least four courses and seminars with Goffman; he served as my thesis advisor; he sat on the committee for my prelims, and also on the defense of my dissertation. He ultimately wrote me a four line letter of recommendation to San Francisco State where I was hired despite the faint praise of his letter.
In the years before he left for Penn, we met socially on and off.  He liked Ned Polsky’s work on pool hall hustlers and the three of us got together one night at a pool hall on Market Street.  He got to know a psychiatrist named Martin Hoffman who was looking at homosexuality in the days before Stonewall; Goffman introduced me to Hoffman (because I had observed homosexual bars – along with a lot of other bars – for my dissertation) and the three of us got together to talk and on one occasion planned a trip to Las Vegas which never materialized. We ran into one another at various ASA meetings until his death. He liked me because I was willing to break rules although on more than one occasion he fretted that I might have gone too far.

There is probably a lot more I can dredge up from the deep regions of the person I was when all of this was relevant.  I did a review of Gender Advertisements and a couple of other papers about Goffman’s work; some – but probably not all – has survived various paper purges.  I have long since lost my vita, and was never particularly good about keeping it current with papers presented at meeting[s] and the like. 
If you would like to explore more of this by telephone (my number is 415-863-6664), I am in SF; the best time to get me is early afternoon, early evening.

I might add that after our first contentious meetings where I threatened to cry if he picked on me he was generally gentle and continued to refer to me as “Kiddo” which I assumed meant that he could not call me “Sherri” although he was perfectly able to call male students by their first name.

hope this has been helpful

Sherri Cavan

Greetings Sherri:

Thank you for getting back to me and for your utterly fascinating memoir!  What you say about Garfinkel’s perception of Goffman is new to me.  Given the accounts I have collected in the Goffman’s archives, Erving’s entire life can be seen as a trust breaching experiment, an ongoing attempt to limn the boundaries of the interaction order by violating its conventions.  Your observation offers fresh fodder to this hypothesis. 

I would love to hear more about your take on Garfinkel and his relationship with Goffman, both intellectual and personal.  My sense is that there is a lot of hidden interchange between these two men, that they were very much aware of each other’s work.  This relationship is relevant for the understanding of both dramaturgy and ethnomethodology, as well as the main currents in the academic thought of the era.
To best of my knowledge, the info about the seminar you attended with Sacks, Schegloff, and Sudnow has not been mentioned in other published accounts.  You do not supply the year or the place when the seminar took place, when Erving introduced you to Hoffman.  I imagine this happened at Berkeley.  If you could situate these events in time, that would be helpful.  The same is the case with the Polsky’s work and the planned trip to Vegas that never materialized.

I would love to ask you a few more questions regarding Erving’s teaching, grading, mentoring, and interactional habits.  Apparently, Erving thought very highly of your ethnographic abilities, as Eviatar attests in his interview, so your take on Erving the teacher and scholar.  Now I can see why:  your willingness to break the rules must have fascinated the inveterate rule breaker.  But then he thought even you have gone too far on some occasions (I wonder which ones).  All this sheds fresh light on Erving’s life.

Earlier today I spoke with Renee Fox who supplied intriguing details on Goffman’s tenure at Penn, and on Monday I am speaking to Sam Heilman.  Please let me know which day would be good for me to call.  How about tomorrow or on Sunday?  I would love to talk to you.  If that is OK with you, I can record our conversation, send you the transcript, then you can edit, redact, and augment the draft as you see fit.  I am tempted to call you right now, but that is probably too short a notice.  Just give me a word when is the most convenience time and day for you, so we can chat. 

I want to get a hold of your writings related to Goffman and Garfinkel and place them in the section of the Goffman archives that features critical studies of his corpus. 

Thank you so much for your willingness to humor me and dredge out all this institutional lore, which tends to sink into oblivion as the players move on to do ethnography in the worlds to come. 

With warmest wishes,



Sunday afternoon – 5 p.m. – would be a good time for a conversation; recording is fine.  Perhaps you can send me some specific questions to think about.

Also, are you familiar with the Berkeley Journal of Sociology? It was published by graduate students for a number of years.  David Sudnow edited the 1963 v. 8 (I am pretty sure of this citation but I think I still have a copy to check) which featured papers by those of us who hung out at Harvey’s; for the most part these were papers presented in part or in whole in Goffman’s seminar.  In addition, one of the seminars Goffman taught during this time was on Social Control (or maybe Deviance). 

He co-taught it with David Matza. David is still in Berkeley ( You might want to talk with him; he was a new faculty along with Goffman and would have some interesting observations.
look forward to talking with you on Sunday.



I am listening to your interview and marvel – what a powerful document, and it is nearly 3 hours long.  You are not only a master ethnographer but also splendid respondent.  It was a pleasure working with you. 

I will transcribe the recording, send you the transcript, so you can edit, redact, augment it as you see fit.  If more stories surface in your memory, please add them on.  They bring the humanity of Erving into sharp relief. 

I have just written to David Matza as you suggested.  If you can think of others I can contact – Marvin Scott, Taylor Buckner, Egon Bittner, Arlene Daniels, Lauren Weitzman (not sure about some of the spellings), please give me a word.  If you know how to find those people, that would be very helpful. 

Thanks for all your help!


Dmitri-----and you were an excellent interviewer.  I especially appreciated the fact that you let me finish a thought before you asked another question.  That is probably why it lasted so long.  I hope you do not have to do the transcription yourself.

And, you are in luck.  When I went to put away the books I found a book review written for one of Goffman classes.  It has his grade (alas, a B+) and his cryptic little comments.  I will send it to you soon.
I believe “Leonore” is the proper spelling for Weitzman; Egon was a student of Garfinkel (not Goffman) and Matza’s is the only address I have.

good luck on your project


Dmitri, until I read your e-mail [about Frances Goffman] I did not know this but now that we know this we know where he may have first encountered the dramaturgical perspective.  Certainly from the perspective of the audience there is no reason to know that a backstage exists, much less its relationship to the drama you are watching. If you have an older sister who is an actress, this is common knowledge and hence a path to Goffman’s early perspective. 

Have you looked up Goffman on I know academics have little respect for it as a source of knowledge, but if you look up Goffman, in the short biography you learn

His sister, Frances Bay says that Erving “was a real prankster as a kid, and they never thought he’d amount to anything.”[1]

1. ^ Michael Posner, “Seinfeld's marble rye lad honoured.” Toronto Globe and Mail, Sept 6, 2008: R4. I tried to find this article, but was not immediately successful but this is where she is quoted about the youthful Erving. Who knows what else is there.

There is also a Wikipedia entry for his sister, 90 and living,

Bay was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame, Sept. 6, 2008, in large part thanks to a petition with 10,000 names that was submitted. The selection committee also received personal letters from Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, David Lynch, Henry Winkler, Monty Hall and other celebrities.[3][4]

This citation from the Goffman Wikipedia article seems to refer to early personal relations in Toronto.
^ Linton Freeman and Barry Wellman. “A Note on the Ancestral Toronto Home of Social Network Analysis.” Connections 18, 3 (November, 1996): 15-19


Thank you for your kind remarks on my youthful paper.  I write so much better now.
good luck with your quest



Anrea sounds like the perfect person to work with; I hope you can put together a set of questions.

Frances could answer (leaving out my impertinent ones). Is Frances still living in southern California? Maybe Jackie and I could go and interview her in person; no kidding.

And yes, I did decide to write a paper which will probably go into the commentary segment. The working title is “Early Erving: Reflections on Winkin’s Snapshots 1 and 2.”

I have attached the intro so you can see where I am going; I have had more success than I expected but there are a lot of questions Frances could answer. About, among other things, their mom.  

again, HOOORAY!!!!



That’s just great.  Happy to see you are on board big time.  I would like the EGA to become a collective enterprise, with all of us sharing info, writing papers, offering comments, engaging in dialogues, serving as sounding boards for each other.  This promises to be a different kind of history and study of society, an inquiry that transgresses the line separating the subject and object of research, where we can not only do justice to our teachers, colleagues, and friends, but also settle some old accounts in the spirit of charity and fairness, do a bit of collectively-festive therapy, and exorcise the ghosts of academic years past. 

Hope you don’t mind my sharing this note with Jackie.  I would like to see her involved as well.  Two of you would be perfect to conduct an interview with Frances. 

Cheers, Dmitri

Greetings Sherri:

First a bit of good news.  Marly Zaslov called me, and we had a nice chat.  She told me that Fran and another relative plan to call me, and if I did not hear from them, I should call.  No one called me on the designated day, so I did place calls myself and left a message.  Let’s see what happens there, but things look promising. 

I didn’t have a chance to talk about you and Jackie interviewing Fran (she lives in Studio City in LA), but I will find the right moment to bring up the question.  Meanwhile, I have a list of your questions about the Goffmans in Canada, anti-Semitism, etc., in case I speak to Fran first.

Marly is trying to locate a booklet (she called it “Album”) published on the occasion of the Auerbach’s reunion that recently took place.  Lots of bio data there, I understand.  She has passed on the info about our site to Tom Goffman.  She didn’t hear from him yet.  I wish I had more interviews with Goffman’s students first, but that is how things evolved.

I would like to speed up the work on your interview.  Attached you will find the transcript of the first hour of our conversation.  The process is slow, as you can imagine, and I have an hour and forty five more minutes of recording to transcribe.  The more I delve into the text, the more excited I feel – this stuff is golden.  You have a narrative gift that comes across in the interview.  The rough edges only enhance the impact. 

I would appreciate your starting the editing process as soon as you can.  I hope to send you the next hour of transcripts in two-three days.  Please edit and augment text as you see fit.  If memory flashes bring back more episodes, however trivial, please add them up.  If you have a substantial insert – say, a paragraph or longer – you can place the addition in [] brackets to mark the newly added text.  I realized from several interviews I have conducted and processed so far that the final text should be seen as a cross between an interview and a memoir (memoview or intervoir). 

Several topics in particular invite the elaboration.  I would like to hear a bit more about your experience with and impressions of Garfinkel, reasons “the guys” preferred to work with him rather than Goffman.  Maybe you can jog a few more memories of Goffman’s meeting with women sociologists in SF.  Did Goffman smoke or drink?  What did he like to eat?  Did he have any pronounced taste in music?  Anything that sheds light on his worldly, bodily pleasures.  I wonder if your choice of the research topic (bar culture, drinking) may have an autobiographical tangent. 

You need not to go into any of that, these are just things that interest me.  Many thanks for your being part of this project!  With warm wishes,


Dmitri----this is great news.  I just had a feeling when Arnea answered your inquiry and referred to “the siblings” that they would like to be involved.  The internet spawned a gazillion data bases and people [managed to] become serious biographers.  Indeed a lot of what I learned about the Averbachs I earned from various family blogs.

I am so glad you found the proper spelling of Ann’s maiden name; it opened up an entire window on Dauphin and Winnipeg society and the place of the Goffman family.

Of course, I have a lot of new additional questions that Frances could answer.


did Goffman watch movies; was he a fan of vaudeville – which preceded most movies when he was a boy;

did they speak Yiddish at home? read the Yiddish paper?

what was the relationship between Erving and his mother; his relatives; where did his grandparents come from and were they living and accessible when he was a boy;

was there a special bond between Erving and his Grandparents;

also, after his wife’s death did his mother come to help her widower son and her grandson? (and if not, who helped him?)

I will probably think of some more questions.

In the meantime, I am sending the incomplete draft of “Early Erving” so you can see the kind of family, and community information I (happily) uncovered and also so you can see where these observations, so far, have led me and also questions they suggest to you. PLEASE DO NOT POST THESE AT THIS TIME.

In the meantime, as soon as I have breakfast I will start on editing the copy you sent.

Again, I think this is wonderful news; and would be even more wonderful still if you could interview his son; my guess is that Erving was a good father, even if he hid this from his public

it is very exciting to be part of this project


Greetings, Sherri:

Thanks for your paper on the Goffmans.  I see that it is evolving nicely. 

You say that “Max Goffman (b. 1900) arrived in Winnipeg. . .”  But the obit says he died in 1954 at the age of 64, which means he was born in 1890.  The info I found states that he was born on February 26, 1890. 

I will wait with posting your paper till you give me the word to do so.  Meanwhile, I am continuing transcribing your interview.  Looking forward to your edits. 

All best, Dmitri

Greetings to you, Dmitri

I was very impressed by your transcript. The worst part was my constant use of “yeah” and “like” and if you removed them I would not look like such a dork.

I tried to keep my editing to a minimum; mainly to make sense.  In a couple of places I was so garbled that I had no idea where it was going and I suggested those parts be eliminated. Somehow I managed to mess up the formatting and so odd fonts and peculiar spacing appear, but I know you can properly reformat the whole document.

I saved it as a word ‘97, which I think is what you sent but if you cannot open it I will re-save it as something else.

Anyway, you did a great job transcribing.  I have done it and it is difficult. I used to make my research method students do it just to get the experience – they all wanted to use recording devices and I wanted them to have the complete experience; they soon succumbed to note taking.

I will look forward to the second part.



p.s. I know you will tell me as soon as you hear from the relatives.


Of course you can get rid of all the “yeah,” “like,” and similar verbal ticks.  Ours is not an exercise in conversation analysis, so I do not see a problem with editing the final version to your satisfaction.  Indeed, why don’t you do it yourself? 

Also, there is no need to put in square brackets every minor change or substitute you make.  Take this example from the edited text you sent me:

“. . . and they still had a copy on the shelf for the guy from psychiatry. [So I bought it.]” 

We have a minor stylistic correction here that does not change the substance of what was originally said, nor does it introduce a substantially new point.  So I would reproduce this sequence as follows:

“. . . and they still had a copy on the shelf for the guy from psychiatry.  So I bought it.” 

The same is the case with the garbled material you decided to delete – just get rid of it without any marking. 

Occasionally there is a sensitive segment in the transcript that the interviewee or the interviewer wants to keep confidential.  For instance, Renee Fox dictated to me Winkin’s email address during our conversation.  I did not know whether Winkin would have liked to have his address posted on the internet, so I redacted it.  Such a deletion containing sensitive or confidential info can be marked as <. . .>.

We can use square brackets to provide supplementary info (e.g., the full name of the person mentioned only by the first or last name), or to mark a substantial elaboration introduced during the editing process – especially when it is longer than a sentence.  For example:

“That must have been in ‘64, ‘65.  [I think it was l963; it took me two years to finish my dissertation and I got my degree in l965.]”  That works fine, in my view.  Readers can see that you have offered a post factum clarification.

Let me know if these editorial guidelines make sense to you.  

Not sure if you want to go over the text and incorporate these suggestions (don’t worry about the fonts and formatting).  If not, I will do further editing myself. 

Will let you know when and if I hear from the EG relatives. 

Regards, Dmitri

Hi Dmitri---

I was amused by your reference to conversational analysis. I took the opportunity to follow your guidelines and re-edit the interview.  In a couple of places I thought a thought ended too abruptly and added a sentence to complete the idea (for example, the reason I was surprised that the guys had not done their exams with Goffman was because they were always bragging about how they got the better of him in their exams. So I added a sentence that I think clarifies it.)  In two places I added a paragraph and left the brackets in place.  The first is the story about the snails and the irises; the second clarified why he was complaining about the lighting when he presented his gender advertisement slides. I think I also tried to clarify the neon-cocktail glass story.

I thought I could reformat the document and while I got the type and the margins organized I managed to lose your indentation and boldface. I did manage to figure out what I was doing to mess it up in the first place and how now to do that.

take care



Here is the next installment of the transcripts.  I have about one more hour to transcribe. 

You will see that I have converted the text to the “docx” format and used your edits.  You can edit the new material, as well as the old one, as needed. 

I realize I need to talk to you about Alvin Gouldner, his relationship to Erving, etc.  He is an important figure from that era.  You might want to insert your take on the man, or we can talk first and then I will transcribe our conversation (Part II).

I’ve got to run.  Will be back in a couple of hours.  Thanks,



You must be walking on air!!!!

I got your phone message [about talking to Frances Goffman] – thank you for calling.  So now I am so excited too.

I am resending my wish list of questions with a few new ones, especially about Goffman’s mother; I know you have a thousand questions too but anything you can find out about these early years before Goffman leaves Winnipeg for Toronto is so important, especially if you believe that the boy is the first draft of the man.

When you get a chance to contact Frances Bay (as I know you will – and now you did!) these are some questions I hope she could answer – when did Ann Averback come to Winnipeg; did she have a big family? Did her family live in Dauphin as well as Winnipeg; were Goffman’s grandparents living and accessible when he was growing up?

1. did Max Goffman have a car? (I am curious as to how far up the status ladder the family went). The family, as best I can tell, sailed through the depression; they bought a house, Frances went to fancy dress balls, reported in the Winnipeg paper; Mrs. Goffman was involved with Haddasah (did I spell this right?) also reported in the paper,

2. Erving’s boyhood friends in Dauphin and in Winnipeg. Was he a loner; did he have a buddy or two; did he hang out with a gang?  Did he have any hobbies, such as...; what kind of trouble did he get into; what kinds of things earned him praise?  Did he have a girl friend?

2.5. Did he have any interests in politics? (I have a newspaper clipping from l937 which describes an incident at St. Johns Technical School (the very school erving was going to and the very year – I think – that he started high school). The incident involves 15 jewish students [who] boycotted the school in response to a teachers antisemetic remarks in class.  Unfortunately the paper does not give the names of the boys, but does suggest political activity on the part of Jewish youth in Winnipeg and the question is was Erving among them and if not how did he respond to this kind of political action.

3. Family reading practices – did they read a newspaper; Max, Anna, Frances, Erving – did they read books; can she remember titles or kinds, e.g. adventure, biography, fiction, etc.

3.5. Did Erving go to the movies as a boy a lot? Did he enjoy vaudeville; did he have any favorite vaudeville acts?

4. Max and Anne – temperament; relationship (was his mother the more dominant figure in the family).

5.  The relations between Max and Erving.  Were they close; how did they express affection; did they fight over anything.

5.5. The relations between Erving and his mother; between Frances and her younger brother; how did his mother respond when he married a gentile

6.  Religious observances; were they observant; what kind of practices did observe; did they go to, belong to a temple? Did Erving have a bar mitzvah? 

7.  Was teasing a family practice? Did Max tease; did Erving tease; did the family use nicknames; what was Erving’s nickname as a boy good luck and be sure to call me as soon as you have spoken to HER!


p.s. yes, I received two more parts of the interview and will attend to them tomorrow (Did you do preliminary “yeah-ectomy” on them?)

okay, Dmitri---this is the last part.  Again, I tried to complete ideas that I felt were left hanging, removed repetition and irrelevances and rambling words that seemed to go nowhere. I removed most of the snide, gratuitous remarks. 

please understand that you have my permission to further edit as you feel is necessary, to cite, to quote and to add this document to the Goffman archives. I will be interested to see how others respond.  Hopefully they will be eager to add their insights and experiences as well.  

However, I think your most important document in the archives will be your interview with Frances Bay.

Good luck


p.s. in reading over the whole interview I am impressed again with your skills and your insights.  Great interview, Dmitri

Greetings Sherri:

Your interview is posted on the web.  Here is the link:  You can edit it and make further changes as needed. 

I think this is a wonderful document.  It makes you hear the noise of time, it is suffused with emotions – it breathes.  Thank you for a good word about my work.  We both worked hard [I loved your inserts!], and I hope it shows. 

Maybe you can add a sentence or two on how Harvey died, and at some point speak to me or write a memoir about Al Gouldner.  I wonder, also, if you have heard anything on how Erving faced his death, how he lived in the last few months with the knowledge of impending death. 

Would like to post on the web your AJS review of Gender Advertisements as well as your chapter in the book on Berkeley women sociologists.  Do you have them in a digital form by any chance?  If not, we should try to get a PDF file. 

Thanks for everything,



Hope you got the phone message about my conversation with Frances. 

Haven’t seen the article, thanks for the heads-up.  I have added it to the EGA.

I have gotten nice feedback on your interview.

Best, Dmitri

Dmitri, I did get your phone message and was so sorry to have missed you.  First, congratulations on the Bay interview.  Without even hearing any more than you left in your message I am confident that this document will recast much of our understandings about Goffman.  It is very important for your project and you should be commended for securing it, Right On!!! (I had a hunch that there was much to explore with regards to Goffman’s mother; Winkin takes his snapshots from a male perspective; not only is Goffman’s father the focus of attention, but even his mother’s maiden name is misspelled, thereby obscuring that whole line of inquiry.)

I too have secured a minor success. I found an antiquarian book seller on line who had a copy of a small local history of Dauphin, Manitoba. It has lots of ethnographic data from the 1920s and 1930s, the years of Goffman’s boyhood. There is a lot of information about the school system extant at that time, the business district, the character of social life and how Dauphin survived the Depression. There is also contradictory information about the Goffman store, and no information on any synagogue; in fact, if there was a Jewish community in Dauphin you couldn’t tell that from that book.

I am going to take good care of this book – I usually destroy books in the process of reading/devouring them – so you can send it as a gift to the relatives who maintain the archives.

I am at home (which is to say not traveling) but I am in and out on no regular schedule and even when I am in the house, I only have one functioning telephone (no mobile phone) so I frequently do not hear it ring.  I do check my e-mail frequently so if you post me a note we can make a time when I can answer the phone.

If we do not connect before the New Year, let me wish you a happy and productive new year.


Greetings Sherri:

Hope the year has begun auspiciously for you.  Just want to say hello and to let you know about a moving exchange I had with Esther Besbris, Erving’s cousin and a close friend of Anne Averbach and Frances Bay.  We spoke for about two and a half hours.  Lot’s of good lore to share with you.  On January 25 the family assembles for Fran’s 90th birthday in LA and I am invited.  I feel awkward, as this is supposed to be a family affair and I would feel like interloper, but Marly and Esther insist that I come.  I probably should, if not for the actual event then on the eve of it, or right after to pay tribute to Fran. 

Esther will try to contact a few people in Canada who knew Erving in early years. 

All best, Dmitri

Well, I guess if you get your points recognized by the lecturer there is discussion; if not, not enough.  I assume Rachel sent you a contact number for Arlene. It would be great for you to talk to Joan Emerson. I seem to remember that she was at Harvey’s on at least one occasion.  She did her dissertation on laughter in the hospital. She had a brilliant analysis of the gynecological exam titled “Nothing Unusual is Happening.” 

If this works for you I will call you at 2 p.m. Pacific time.  I still have your number 


Thank you for your new year’s greeting, Dmitri. Year One of the Age of Obama, as I like to think of it.

It is a great complement for you, as the biographer, to be made an honorary member of the family.  You must go of course, and I am envious. You will get to meet Goffman’s sister, his extended clan (which says something in and of itself), stories will be told to you by those who know, pictures shared. Possibly Tom [Goffman] will be there and you would have a comfortable way to make contact with him. You can’t beat face-to-face. 

again, this is fabulous news and I can hardly wait to hear what Esther told you.

my best



I was thinking about your good fortune and remembering all of the anthropological accounts where the field worker is made an honorary member of a tribe or a family or, in Return to Laughter, made an honorary member of the opposite sex. (In anthro field work classes we had a joke, “What is the definition of an Inuit family? A father, a mother, children, grandparents and an anthropologist”).

Looking for something else I thought I would look for a copy of my dissertation, realizing it would have Erving’s signature on it.  Well, I didn’t find the dissertation but I did find the box of old term papers that I thought I had discarded.  It was full of carbon copies for the most part.  There was one original paper.  It was for Goffman.

It was the final exam that I had described to you.

how auspicious



The exam you mention is a find.  Would you mind having it posted on the web?  Even the old carbon copies can be digitized, I think.  See what else might be there.

Also, do you have your chapter in the Berkeley women book in a digital file? 

Best, Dmitri

Dmitri---I was touched by the exchange with Matza, that he made an extra effort to get a link that worked, and that he was willing to read the piece and comment.  We often have e-mail conversations about what we are reading and his usual reading fare is heady political theory.  But then in truth we like each other. 

I spent a little time looking at the newspaper while playing scrabble with my grandson (a mistake, he won).  I thought I would come across the various NYT references you found and maybe something else.  I did not find the NY times (apparently it is not one of the papers they archive.  Just lucky that that had such a complete set of the Winnipeg Free Press.)  I did find a variety of other things from small newspapers; most of them consisted of references to some concept or book by Goffman, and often the same article was reprinted in a variety of different places. I made copies of two of them, but think I will go back and look some more. One article referenced a slide show presentation Goffman made at Gettysburg College.  It was interesting in that it juxtaposed the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley with his eight books, giving the impression that Goffman the FSM were joined in some positive fashion.  It was just curious.  The second was more disturbing. From the Santa Fe Times, it is a review of a book about sociology and business.  The reviewer mentions Goffman and presentation of self, and then goes on to an aside claiming that his (the reviewer’s) linguistic teacher at Berkeley came across Goffman rifling his (the linguistic prof’s) papers. Someplace else in the archives I read an account of Goffman purposefully spilling a glass of water on someone. It bothers me; I don't think it is true, or at least I find it hard to believe.  While Goffman had no hesitancy to bend, break, besmirch rules of social interaction, the idea that he would break the law (breaking and entering, assault) just doesn’t ring true. Besides actually messing with someone’s stuff or physical self is grounds in a lot of circles for physical retribution.

A couple of other articles which I will go back to retrieve have to do with different conferences on mental illness that Goffman attended. These meetings seemed advocatorial (is this a word? pertaining to advocacy). It made me think that there is another Goffman side, one that is not so easily seen by students or people who have short exchanges with him, a professional world outside associations like the ASA and such. Perhaps he was political in a way that is not so obvious. I also think he served on some editorial boards for journals. All of this needs to be documented. You might even think about another section in the archives for this.

Two more possible contacts: Goffman often mentioned Ervin-Tripps work often and I think they may have been friends at Berkeley. Skolnick was in the cohort of new professors that included Goffman.

SUSAN M. ERVIN-TRIPP. Professor of Psychology, Emerita Psychology Department, 3210 Tolman Hall, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720-16

In the fall of 1996, Professor Jerome Skolnick became Co-Director of the Center. Skolnick, the leading American scholar on policing, came to NYU after more ...

ciao for now


Greetings Sherri:

I just got off the phone with the 96 year old mother of Marly Zaslov who shared with me bits and pieces of family lore, received mostly second-hand, yet valuable.  Will talk to Marly Zaslov tonight. 

The articles you found are familiar to me.  A few days back I posted them, along with a bunch of other news accounts, on the web in the “Goffman in the News.”  Check out this section in the EGA archives:  You will see that I chose to reproduce the entire page, which means that the reader needs to magnify the relevant article.   

You will not find the NYT articles on the unless they were reprinted locally.  But you can access most of the articles citing Erving directly on the NYT web site (some require a payment for access).  I have compiled a list of some 60 relevant articles, along with the URLS, published in NYT between 1961-2008.  Here is the link to this post:  I think this is a goldmine.  One can make an interesting study of how Goffman’s ideas penetrated popular culture. 

Yes, I also found the reference to Goffman rifling through his colleague’s belonging startling.  Cannot say I am completely surprised, but the narrative arch of this story is too smooth; it might reflect some heavy editing.  Still, it is quite a tidbit.  Wish we could track its source. 

I am about to post Renee Fox’s interview, have finished transcribing the interview with Habenstein, and am half way through the Gusfield interview.  Next are interviews of Wiseman and Heilman, then Frances and Esther, assuming my brain still functions. 

Will try to track the possible new contacts.  One more person I am looking for is Egon Bittner.  He retired from Brandeis, but contact info is listed there. 

All best, Dmitri

Greetings Sherri:

Thanks for the feedback.  Just got off the phone with Saul Mendlowitz.  He shared great lore and offered interesting interpretations of Erv and people around him. 

I have heard from several people whom we invited to join the advisory board – Fox, Horowitz, Manning, and Scheff.  So far, everybody is on board.   Have not heard from Jackie, Gary and Carol yet.  If you speak to Jackie, please alert her to the invitation. 

Below is the message from Peter Manning regarding your interview (he told me I could share it with you).  He also asked for your email address, so he should be writing to you directly. 

All best,


Dmitri, thank you for sending me the Sherri Cavan interview. I used to spend a lot of time with her at ASA and admired her book and work. I have to say that her account of the scene at Berkeley, EG’s demeanor and teaching style are consistent with most of what I experienced and know. She is one of the few people who “got it right” in respect to a working relationship with EG, perhaps what he calls a “working consensus.” She is very insightful, funny and a great fieldworker.  I am not writing this to be added to the website, but more in support of your “fieldwork” and efforts to understand the relationship between Erving Goffman and what Sherri labels “Erving Goffman” (as celebrity, focus of stories, envy and fear and oedipal figure). I think she alone gets “beneath” the stories to what drove him. Ambition, intense focus, obsessive desire to “get it right” and needing a front to protect his anxieties.  
I really enjoyed the interview because it “sounded” like Sherri – witty and insightful and honest. By the way, Sherri’s mention of Donald Ball is important. He was a genius; witty; clever; a first rate sociologist.....student of Ralph Turner at UCLA..... more or less committed suicide by traffic accident I think. He was until his death my closest friend (he asked me to teach at U of Victoria BC where I taught in the summer of 1968).       
Happy New Year

Thanks, Sherri:

Nice letters.  You didn’t seem to provide Howe with the web link to the EGA site.  I think he might want to see where we are at this point.  I would provide a direct link to the EGA page, which has more relevant materials than the Intercyberlibrary site, which has grown too heavy for its own good.  Here is the link:

It might be a good idea to offer a sample of interviews and memoirs as well, along with the links attached.  Here is one possible sample:

Carol Gardner,

John Irwin,

Eviatar Zerubavel,

Renee Fox,

Charles Glock,

Sherri Cavan,

Things are shaping nicely.  Will give a summary of my talk with Saul Mendlowitz. 

Regards, Dmitri

Greetings Dmitri

just a note to let you know that I will be gone from May 13 to June 9. I am going to Spain and Morocco, just to get out of my comfort zone.  That is a joke – I have not seen my comfort zone since December, when the renovations on the kitchen began.  It’s done but it took 4 1/2 months and I have not had the courage to total up the checks I wrote. In the meantime rats have invaded the garden and destroyed my plums, my palms, and my wisteria and then a ferocious wind blew the ancient roses off the fence, enshrouding my camellias and hydrangeas and threatening their blooms. I do have a wonderful field of foxglove, but the rats will probably do them in while I am gone. We have a serious rat problem in the bay area.  Everyone I talk to has a rat story.

I will be purposefully without e-mail or internet access. Hopefully, when I return I will be able to read Jackie’s memoir. Before I leave I will check back with Bob Emerson to see if he has written anything.

my best


Greetings Sherri:

What a calamity befell you.  I hope your travel will take your mind off the misfortune with your house. 

I will be leaving town for my daughter’s graduation next Monday, May 11, and stay a week in and around LA.  Will visit with Fran and Esther, try to get more photos.  Before I leave, I will send out an update to the EGA board.  Several new important conversations are about to be placed on our site, along with some documents.  Jackie told me she will try to come up with a draft of her memoir in a few days.  She was not certain she could complete it. 

If I don’t talk to you before I leave town, please have a safe, fun trip.

All best, Dmitri

Dmitri---each addition makes the archive richer. I am so glad you were able to include of Goffman’s MA and PHD thesis. I assume the U of Chicago transcript was available to you as part of a publically available record and if so, it is already part of the public domain. Are you reluctant to post it because he was not a straight A student? Doubtless, Erving would not want it posted – no matter what the transcript included; but then he probably would not have wanted any of the archive to exist as a comprehensive record of the man and his works.  I spent a lot of time this afternoon thinking about this. I thought, well if this was the Alvin Gouldner Archive, how would Erving feel about posting Gouldner’s transcripts? I would like to see you include the transcript as it is obviously a part of his intellectual development, and, if he was not a straight A student, it will give testimony to how one can have a less than stellar academic career and then go on and have a stellar professional career.

I will look forward to reading all the new additions when I get back in June.
until then my best


Greetings Dmitri---

Just got back from a month traveling from Madrid to Marrakech.  The single most vivid memory is driving along endless miles of the Spanish countryside and seeing mile after mile after mile of mature olive groves, growing on steep barren hillsides that could never be profitable for a growing anything else. So of course, being a sociologist, I thought a lot about the role of oil in the ancient world – specifically oil for their lamps and oil for their cuisine. Ate a lot of olives too!

The most unexpected moment was being led to Ibn Chaldean’s house in Fez by a Moroccan woman who had studied French linguistics at the University in Rabat and could speak as knowledgeably about Noam Chomsky as about the history of Fez and argan oil (yet another oil with a curious culture).

I did very little shopping, with the exception of many kilo’s of rocks for my grandson. The Sahara was once a great sea bed so there are many many fossils in the area and fossils  is one of the local industries – finding and selling. In addition to a weighty sampler of all the rocks and minerals of Morocco, there were two perfect geodes, one like nothing I had ever seen before – lava on the outside; pyrite on the inside and a perfect ring of what looks like opaque white quartz around the inside perimeter.  Finally, I got the most beautiful crinoide fossil specimen of a perfect creature that lived 5.2 to 2.2 million years ago. It has what looks like a forearm, differentiating into five articulated digits, and ending with a fan of fine filaments.  It’s a knockout, and makes you wonder at how early the five digit appendage appeared and how wide spread it is as an adaptation of a mobile organism.

Well, I could go on at length – the moment of stillness at the top of a sand dune in the Sahara, watching the sun set behind distant dunes, a break from a camel ride to and from the spot at the bottom of the dune and a sweaty, clumsy climb to the top. The amount of Tuareg artifacts there were in markets. Of course, the Tuareg are traders and so they move sub-Saharan artifacts (carvings, jewelry, leather work) to markets across the Sahara from Mali to Marrakech. (I have seen them going south, taking salt slabs to the Niger river with camel caravans of over a hundred animals, each with four large slabs of salt on each side of the saddle.) I have a great love of everything Tuarg, and in particular jewelry (traditional and modern) so I was in heaven; although I used enormous restraint. (Stanford University recently held a show of traditional and modern Tuareg jewelry at their museum.)

I just got in last night which was yesterday morning according to my operating inner clock so I am easing myself back into ordinary life.

I glanced at the documents you mailed me (and will have more to say after a good look).

my best


damn my spell checker!

Dmitri----belated greetings to you.

I read Sky’s thesis.  I imagine you have also, so when I say it is quite a document of self-ethnography, you know that already.

Did we once have Erving’s Master’s thesis in the archive? I would certainly like to read the two documents together.  But the few citations to Erving (in her 1950 thesis) are redolent of a story.  It might not be their story, but maybe it is.  They meet in class; discover they have similar intellectual interests in common (the thematic apprehension test. Oddly enough I was enamored with the TAT when I was doing graduate work at UCLA and argued that stories could be used as evidence of a mindset either conducive to upholding the law or conducive to breaking the law. This is an aside). From Erving and Skye’s discussion of matters sociological came a romantic attraction which resulted in their marriage in 1952. In addition to her physical attraction, her social class must have generated a special allure for Erving. Did he write her letters from the Shetland Islands? Are there traces of them someplace?  We could wish.

But there is a snag in the story. If Erving thought he was getting an upper class trophy wife, he was mistaken. From the few accounts in the archives we know (or, kinda know) she was really more bohemian than Bohemian Grove. She was certainly more liberal, perhaps radical, than Erving and this must have created a certain tension in their relationship, along with her growing dissatisfaction of being “just a housewife.”

ciao for now


Greetings, Sherri:

I am sorry I couldn’t answer earlier.  My mother, who is 90, broke her hip, and I have been taking care of her.  Now that the surgery is over and she is on the way to recovery, I can write a few words in reply to your observations and insights.

The moment I spotted Sky’s thesis in the UC Library catalogue, I knew it must be a find.  The very title – “The Personality Trends in Upperclass Women” – brought to mind Erving’s MA thesis and his first publication, “Symbols of Class Status.”  The fact that Sky extensively quotes Erving’s MA (it is posted in the documents section of our site) tells me that the two shared intellectual interests. 

Erving’s earliest statement on this subject I am familiar with is his 1948 paper that he wrote for Ernest Burgess’s class.  In 1949 he filed his MA thesis “Some Characteristics of Response to Depicted Situations.”  A year later Sky defended her MA thesis.  In 1951 Erving published his first article on “Symbols of Class Status,” and in 1953 he defended his Ph.D.  It was more than a polite gesture for Erving to acknowledge critical input from “Angelica Choate” in his 1951 article, alongside Lloyd Warner, Robert Armstrong, and Tom Burns.  I am convinced that the intellectual exchange between the two was a two way street.

In his first article Goffman argues that status symbols “may come to be employed in a ‘fraudulent’ way, i.e., to signify status that the claimant does not in fact possess,” that in America “[o]ffenders of this kind commit a presumption, not a crime,” and that the ready availability of class status symbols in the middle class America tends to “undermine the regard in which costly symbols are held by members of other classes.”  Subtler marks of breeding are to be considered, such as “the cultivation of arts,” a “command of foreign languages,” and specially refined “tastes” and “habits” that expose nouveaux riches still uneasy in their skins and certify those who had their class bread into their bones from childhood on. 

Some of these themes appear in Sky’s thesis where she discusses the upper class women’s “consciousness of class, consumption patterns and status symbols” acquired through years spent in boarding schools and country clubs where they are prepared for their society weddings and future wifely roles.  In a similar vein Sky notes that “the way upper-uppers treat their status symbols suggest that they are uneasy about these symbols which are available to anyone with a certain amount of wealth,” which is why the elite pays close attention to “skill in the use of a set of symbols rather than use of a distinctive set of symbols [and] prize this skill when it is acquired by informal instruction at an early age and to deride it when it is acquired later and/or from impersonal access such as an etiquette book or a magazine on interior decorating.” 

A systematic comparison of EG’s and Sky’s views on class symbols and their deflation in the middle class America should be instructive.  Such an inquiry is likely to reveal the personal dimension of Sky’s musings about upper class women’s personality traits and aspirations.  Clearly, the composite portrait she divines from her sample of 30 women drawn from “a region near Boston” is grounded in Sky’s experience as much as in her data.  She admits that much when she writes that “the following attempts to generalize about upper-upper life patterns and the upper-upper subculture cannot be extensively documented and should in some cases be considered as impressions which need further investigation rather than as statements of fact.”  Given Sky’s pedigree, one can hardly think of a better qualified person to observe the lives of the upper crust women.

This wondrously personal statement made me think that, inadvertently, Sky anticipated the story of her life, of her marriage to an upwardly-mobile middle-class striver Erving Goffman.  Sky had 14 years to live after she defended her thesis, with her life story offering evidence that “lineage symbols” meant something to her, that “upper-uppers are unwilling to accept criticism from people outside their class,” that “downward social mobility for an upper-upper . . . is often an act of protest.”  Her rebellious streak was on display when she defied her strata’s prejudice regarding higher education (“graduate work . . . is not much valued; this is especially true for women”) and pressure to marry “Mr. X, who, brought up in a similar way and educated in private schools, was starting his career in a profession or in one of the Boston banks or investment houses.” 

I think you are exactly right when you suggest that Erving miscalculated if he sought to marry a “trophy wife.”  Sky seems to be more liberal than Erving, more independent and more public-minded.  The tension in this family reflected various incompatibilities and idiosyncrasies, but Erving’s beliefs about wife’s proper place in the household must have been a major factor. 

Wish we could share with Sky’s relatives our discoveries.  All best,


“This year, Christmas Eve falls on the 3,000th day that U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan, as well as the 30th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of the very same nation.”


Greetings Sherri:

Good to hear from you.  Hope your year is ending auspiciously and the coming one brings good tidings to you and yours.

We are learning some lessons in Afghanistan that the Russian had learned a decade ago – suits us right. 

Wonder if you received the last EGA update that featured a few good interviews, including a meaty one by Dean MacCannell.  I have recently recorded an interview with Magali (the two of you apparently knew each other rather well at some point).

I am still off my working schedule, attending to my mother, and now trying to get rid of a commitment to expand an article on Mead I once wrote for Ritzer’s volume.  One thing I managed to do was to give a talk in my department on Goffman as a pioneer in self-ethnography. 

Attached is a chart I prepared for this presentation.

Regards, Dmitri

Dear Dmitri---I am sorry I have become such a lame correspondent, but so much has happened since I got back from Morocco (some good, some not so good) and each time I thought about writing it was just too much to manage.   Beyond the nagging question, “was I a dope for hope?” were more personal issues. At least the latter have been resolved.

I am taking a break from everything, going to Timbuktu because that is about as far as you can go overland. Besides, Mali is one of my favorite places and I have been traveling there on various occasions over the past twenty years. Twenty years ago video cassettes were transforming traditional life. It will be interesting to see the influence of the digital world and the distribution of wi-fi. Is there wi-fi in Timbuktu? (I bet there is).

When I get back in January I would like to resume working on the two papers re Goffman's early life and his first wife.  I hope your interviews with the relatives will be posted by then.  Also, I wanted to ask if you had Sky’s transcripts from the University of Chicago? If you compared them with Erving's transcripts we might be able to identify the classes they took together. I did (just) read the MacCannell interview, which is a bit of a cliff-hanger with the promise of the vita voluptuousa to be provided at some later date. As the archive grows it will be interesting to see who saw only the sweet side of Erving, who saw his spite and who got mixed messages.

The chart for your paper on Goffman is great.  I never cease to be amazed by how powerful the visual arrangement of information can be.

Was your talk well received by your department? I hope so.

Anyway the first decade of the new century is passing and those of us who had great hope for this new century are resigning ourselves to what appears as a permanent war, just as Cheney and Rumsfeld promised almost ten years ago.

ciao for now



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