Comments on the Goffman Project,
Malleable Self, and Enduring Character

Arnold J. Glass

August 8, 2009

Dmitri -

I take the view that anything about EG in the public domain is fair game for discussion. And no one is invading EG's wish for privacy by illegally obtaining sealed archives. At issue, from what I've been reading, is dissemination and publication of the "Tales of Goffman" along with much evaluative speculation. Isn't this all about gossip and reputation? Gossip is not a bad word. Gossip is the oxygen of social life. From Simmel:

. . . all of human intercourse rests on the fact that everybody knows somewhat more about the other than the other voluntarily reveals to him; and things he knows are frequently matters whose knowledge the other person (were he aware of it) would find undesirable. All this may be considered indiscretion in the individual sense: in the social sense, it is a condition necessary for the concrete density and vitality of interaction. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to trace the legal limit of this trespass into intellectual private-property. In general, man arrogates to himself the right to know all he can find out through mere observation and reflection, without applying externally illegitimate means. . . . To the man with the psychologically fine ear, people innumerable times betray their most secret thoughts and qualities, not only although, but because, they anxiously try to guard them. The avid, spying grasp of every inconsiderate word, the boring reflection on what this or that tone of voice might mean, how such and such utterances might be combined, what blushing on mentioning a certain name might betray - none of this transcends the limits of external discretion; it is merely the work of one's own intellect and, for this reason, one's indisputable right. . . . Often we simply cannot check our interpretation of the other, our construction of his inner nature. No matter how much every decent person tells himself that he must not muse over what the other hides, that he must not exploit the slips and helplessness of the other; knowledge, nevertheless, occurs so automatically, and its result confront us with such striking suddenness, that mere good will has no power over it. Where the doubtless impermissible can yet be so inevitable, the boundary between what is allowed and what is not, is all the more blurred. How far discretion must refrain from touching even intellectually "all that is his", how far, on the other hand, the interests of interaction and the interdependence of the members of society limit this duty - this is a question for whose answer neither moral tact nor knowledge of objective conditions and their requirements alone is sufficient, since both are needed. The subtlety and complexity of this question relegate it to the individual decision which cannot be prejudged by any general norm. . . . In the interest of interaction and social cohesion, the individual must know certain things about the other person. Nor does the other have the right to oppose this knowledge from a moral standpoint, by demanding the discretion of the first: he cannot claim the entirely undisturbed possession of his own being and consciousness, since this discretion might harm the interests of his society. . . .

Like everyone, EG, then and now, must be held responsible for his public behavior. And as the memoirs come in, much of his behavior was idiosyncratic in the way of words spoken to others. If others, for whatever motivation, now choose to reveal words spoken, where's the problem? If in the telling of the tales, teller speaks truth, does not betray a confidence, or intentionally maligns, there is no indiscretion in documenting the many "Goffman moments". The greater task lies ahead for many who I sense are chomping at the bit to make hay in the way of writing "papers" of a psychobabbling nature in the attempt to explain enigmatic and lovable, but sometimes "eerie" Erving.

Don't make a big tzimmis about this. As a result of your project, maybe someone will write a good biography -- "fair, balanced, and unafraid." Continue your good work.


(Dmitri - at your discretion you may post the above).


August 13, 2009

In many dramaturgical moments, one's multifaceted self emerges and the Goffmanian concludes there is no core self. The self as a stable, unified entity is illusory. It is a string of facades derived from encounters with others on the social stage. But one can ask, if there is no stable, enduring essence; what is it that corresponds to "an ideal sphere around every human being?" . . .  For "so inviolate should this sphere be, that to penetrate it, the personality value of the individual is thereby destroyed?" (Simmel). And Durkheim writes in a similar vein: "The human personality is a sacred thing; one does not violate it nor infringe its bounds. . . ." But when one interacts, one self with another in the spirit of I and Thou (Buber), how do we know the self we meet is engaging us in a performance reflective of cynicism or authenticity? Goffman asserts all the masks we wear are "our truer self"; ergo, if we can't shed the mask and all reflects our true self, there is no false self!  From this we conclude that if all is sacred, nothing is profane! Duplicity and manipulation of another in "it" fashion (Buber) voids any meaningful understanding of that which is sacred about human personality. Would Simmel and Durkheim agree?

If there is no core self, is this true about one's "character"? In the quest for that which is sacred, I suggest character trumps the chameleon-like self. Perhaps we should look to the Meadian "I" -- that component of the self which evades deliberation and premeditated gamesmanship and impression management; for the "I" is known only retrospectively after expression. In the Meadian sense, the totality of one's unreflective, spontaneous responses define character; for the totality of such responses are recognizable and are, characteristic of the individual in question. May not character be the illusive enduring essence? Notwithstanding one's multifaceted, situationally constructed self's, what may be consistently recognized attributes, are the unreflective, spontaneous "I" responses, which mark one's essence, one's essential, enduring entity. And this we call character. Here I use the term in a clustered, descriptive sense to include a person's attributes, traits, moral and ethical strength, one's nature, personality and integrity. Isn't this what Durkheim refers to when he says "the human personality is a sacred thing"?

The tales of Goffman reveal EG's "strange" public behavior in the many roles he played as professor, friend, colleague, acquaintance, at conventions, in restaurants, etc. In his self presentations, when his "I" surfaced in any of his activities - did he surprise or do anything that was "out of character" for EG, to those who knew him? Not too often as I understand it. He was a marked man and the brand was self inflicted by his uncontrolled, "I" responses, and this behavior, I suggest, was reflective of his character. His character did not reflect a pretty picture. Might we say his character was a bit flawed? How sad that this brilliant man, so concerned about the moral order, behaved so shamelessly.


(Dmitri - the above are my reflections for the Comments and Dialogue section of the EG Archives).

August 14, 2009

Good morning, Dmitri -

Here's a follow up to my comments of August 13, "Multifaceted, Malleable Self but Enduring Character?"

You've written . . . "Goffman's behavior in Public Places can be profitably explored in light of Goffman's behavior in public places and vice versa . . . tentative conclusion reached is that Goffman was a student of civility whose standards he flouted, that his demeanor was sometimes intentionally demeaning, his deference willfully deferred, and his incivility painfully obvious to those present. The argument is made that Goffman's infringements on the interaction order were strategic, systematic, theoretically significant, and worthy of close study by interactionist sociologists." Maybe yes. Maybe no.

Your argument may hold if EG's provocative, sometimes emotionally abusive behavior occurred during research and the writing of his landmark works. But what I glean in a cursory reading of many reminiscences, his incivility was pervasive prior to serious scholarly work and continued long after publication of many of books and papers. To what end? To serve as validity checks for his conclusions?

Here's a research project for someone (at age 81, not sure it's for me). Do content analysis of the Tales of Goffman and date the "Goffman moments" of incivility and breaches of the moral order correlated date-wise to his research, writing stage, and publication of his works, as well as his early life (most important). From what I've been reading, my guess is one will find EG's breach of manners and protocol was often unrelated to his living and testing theory. Clue. Look to the Meadian "I"!

Now what shapes and accounts for EG's Meadian "I" responses is grist for psychobable speculation. So much to-do is made about EG's height. Adlerians show yourselves! Organ inferiority. The Napoleon Complex. Of course! Then there's so much mention of his Jewishness. Not sure where this may go . . . ah, maybe . . .  "A Jew Amongst Goyim" -- more of -- "no one's going to push me round." Who knows? And then there will be much more. . . .


August 20, 2009

Goffman's Untraveled Road

Much in Goffmans work speaks to experiencing subjective feeling states attuned to emotions in encounters. A bit of psychology, yes? Such terms and phrases are "face", "shame", "embarrassment", "discrediting of one's self presentation". EG asserts all on-stage actions are presentations reflective of the "real" self (for there is no "false self"). But I do notice in the Goffman wordstock, he does not much discuss the "authentic" self or "authenticity" - and I suppose, if he used the words, he'd say, "same idea holds, no difference".

In so doing, he dismisses theory and orientation found in sociology's sister discipline, psychology. I refer to the vocabulary and perspective of humanistic or third force psychologists,  Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, Eric Berne - all of whom present a different slant, inferring there is fakery in self presentations at the emotional level and, more so, that the real and authentic self can be identified in terms of the actors evaluation of his/her own feeling states. One cannot dismiss the reality of such expressions . . . "I feel I'm more of me" . . . "I'm comfortable with myself at this moment" . . . "when I tell you 'go to hell' I like myself because this is how I really feel"  . . . "I don't want to 'pretend' anymore'".

Though all may be a ball and a stage or a wedding, not all costumes and masks we wear make us emotionally comfortable. I suggest we play linguistic hard ball on EG's turf. One need not (make that, dare not have the audacity to) abandon his major themes which stress maintenance of face, avoidance of shame, embarrassment, and the discrediting of self, impression management, back stage, front stage, teamwork, the whole shebang, etc. But we also need not be dismissive of the above mentioned psychologists and other kindred spirits who build another road leading to the emerald city of joy rather than cynicism.

There are barometers to measure equanimity which I suggest is reflective of the self's authenticity and let's label it as such. Neuro-science can now measure such brain and body states. Quite simply, actors know when they "feel good" and are in their comfort zone in the myriad of social scenes in which they are embedded.

I've not forgotten sociology. Enter Randall Collins and emotional energy. EE is not "merely a hypothetical construct, or even a tautology"; it is "an empirical variable"! It is a measurable, felt emotional experience of the actor's elevated equanimity! (See Collins, Interaction Ritual Chains, Appendix: Measuring Emotional Energy and It's Antecedents, pp. 133-140).

Yes, sociologically, all roles and self presentations are functionally and operationally, real. But in playing out roles, actors also experience emotions. Sociologically and psychologically, we are on a double decker bridge going in one direction. Maybe we need to look at the road traveled with two lenses, both of which reflect a wider picture of "reality".


August 23, 2009

The Goffman Archives: What Will Emerge?

Wild Night - Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the Winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden -
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor - Tonight -
In Thee!

(Emily Dickinson)

In preparing publication of Dickinson's poems (1890), Colonel Higginson wrote to co-editor, Mabel Loomis Todd. . . . "One poem only I dread a little to print -- that wonderful 'Wild Nights,' -- lest the malignant read more into it than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there." Thus began the nineteenth century thought community supportive of the notion Emily Dickinson never experienced physical love; evangelicals read the poem as a portrayal of a religious experience reflective of rapture and ecstasy during union with God; and the lesbian community see it as love for sister in law, Susan, (the poem was sent to her).

Thought communities are many and each come to know and interpret the world through a lens ground to a unique intellectual prescription. As a sociological phenomenon, what they have in common is that each embrace distinct and unique shared values but little else; "one's standpoint influences what one perceives" (G.A. Fine). Though informed opinion does not dispute the stature of Dickinson as a great poet, there is disagreement in interpreting her poems, as well as speculation about ED's life apropos relations with her social and emotionally charged world. By way of a particular ideology, diverse thought communities share in contributing to her muddied, variegated, and difficult reputation as a human being. Was she, as Amherst gossip put it "the mad reclusive woman in white"? Was she God intoxicated (evangelical Christians)? Was she a virgin? Did she have a lover implied in the Master Letters? Did she suffer a psychotic break? Was she afflicted with panic disorders? Agoraphobic? Was she an incest survivor (brother or father)? What was the nature of her love for sister in law, Susan?

Of relevance to the Erving Goffman archives and what may come out of this project, the question arises. . . . "To what extent should a work be considered a complete insular entity whose full excellence can be apprehended without reference to anything outside of itself". John Cody, psychiatrist, Emily Dickinson scholar, and "reputational entrepreneur" (1) raised that question. Cody asserts Emily's works take on greater meaning by exploring her relationship to what is known about her life from the vantage point of psychoanalytic interpretation.  "Her poetic elements are representative and symbolic of extra-poetic realities which themselves must be understood if one is to appreciate the art justly." In writing about her life from what was known in letters, memoirs, and the collective memory of those who knew her, Cody(2) launched (1971) followed by Hirschorn(3) and Perriman(4), the psychiatric and psychohistoric thought community, thus joining lesbian and evangelical Christian communities, in interpreting Dickinson poetry. As for Wild Nights and what it "means" -- one never knows, do one!

And then there's Shakespeare about whom we know nothing. Do we have to?

As for the EG archives, will the accumulated and growing number of memoirs contribute to greater understanding of his works? Thankfully, as a master of prose and language, there is little ambiguity in what he wrote. And this accounts for his wish to seal personal papers from scrutiny. Psychobabblers proceed with caution! It is one thing to write about Goffman's reputation as scholar and man, and the memoirs and other archival material are informative and enrich us all.  But all should tread lightly with caution in speculating about EG's motivation for puzzling (to say the least) relations in public. For again . . . one never knows, do one?

"Oh Dear . . .  you keep waiting for the real thing, but this is all there is." (5) -- (Allen Wheelis -- "The Illusionless Man and the Visionary Maid")


1)  Gary Fine - thanks for the phrase.
2)  John Cody, "After Great Pain: The Inner Life of Emily Dickinson" - Harvard University Press, (1971).
3)  Norbert Hirschhorn, "A Bandaged Secret: Emily Dickinson and Incest", Journal of Psychohistory, (1991).
4)  Wendy K. Perriman, "A Wounded Deer: The Effects of Incest on the Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson - Cambridge Press, (2006)
5)  Dennis Brissett & Charles Edgley, "Life as Theater: A Dramaturgical Sourcebook", 2nd Edn., Transaction, (2005)

August 26, 2009

In Quest of the Authentic Self

In his paper, "Goffman's Biography and the Interaction Order: A Study of Biocritical Hermeneutics," Shalin writes . . .  "Goffman's contention that 'our body merely provide(s) a peg on which something of collaborative manufacture will be hung for a time' (Goffman 1959: 253) runs the risk of disembodying our existence and downgrading the resources available to us in everyday life where we can tolerably settle questions of authenticity". Shalin continues. . . "the impression management technique focuses on the qualities amenable to semiotic control, susceptible to simulation and dissimulation . . . not all body indicia can be stage-managed. . . .  The dramaturgical analysis zeroes in on 'the expressive costume that individuals are expected to wear whenever they are in the immediate presence of others' (Goffman 1967:133) '".

Interestingly, the word, "authenticity" does not frequently appear in the Goffman lexicon and I would contend it can add significance in discussing EG's ideas much as does the word "real", in the phrase, "real self".

I conclude that though all on-stage behavior is performative, it is also accompanied by introspection; an introspective self, unrevealed, as the performing self engages in expressive costumes and masks. In so doing, the introspective self assesses "what's going on", and as such is in touch with the totality of the scene. Such introspection takes into account the "generalized other" ultimately guiding the Meadian "me's" responses by the performer. We are always an observer to our own behavior. For without the introspective self, how else can the performance "come off" successfully?

If life is theater, then we, like theatrical on-stage actors and singers in the performing arts, while in role, evaluate how well we speak the lines  and how beautifully we sang that last high-C. Away from Saturday night at the Bijou and in the theater of everyday life, introspectively we anticipate "other's" responses as we double-think . . . and the game goes on. Two forms of the self at one time! One performative and the other, introspective, with the latter in control.

As for authenticity, how true that "not all body indicia can be stage-managed" (Shalin). Take note of the field work of Paul Ekman* in Japan, Brazil, in Papua an isolated society in New Guinea, and the western world - all of whom affirm the universality of emotions of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and happiness as expressed on the face similarly, in all cultures!  And when we are on-stage in co-presence playing the game of impression management, try as we may, we cannot fake these emotions; for the face will betray fakery. Not all presentations of self are "authentic" though operationally, such presentations keep the game going Goffman-like.

Prior to his writing, commonly held opinion was at variance with Darwin who contended a number of emotions are universal, not culture specific. Ekman's  forty years of research confirmed expression of emotions revealed in the face are indeed, universal and are so because humans are neurologically hard-wired to reveal such expressions "in the face". It's a brain mechanism!

Before Ekman, Ray Birdwhistell, Margaret Mead and so many others maintained emotional expressions were culturally shaped and the product of learning. It was observed that Japanese smile in sadness. How did Ekman counter this? He came up with a Goffman-like term, really a maneuver, of "display rules" which he acknowledged, were "socially learned, often culturally different", and were "the rules about the management of expression, about who can show which emotion to whom, and when they can do so"! A familiar ring to this, yes? But managed expressions of emotions, to the critical eye, are not the real McCoy and the forced smile, says Ekman, can be detected as just that. It is false. Inauthentic, if you will.

When words are incongruent with emotions, look to the body indicia for authenticity. The authentic and introspectively, "real" self is a congruent presentation of body idiom and internal feelings. Such congruence will most likely find a performer with elevated emotional energy (EE).


(At your discretion, post for Comments and Dialogue)

August 30, 2009

Presentation of Self in Cyberspace and the Loss of Co-Presence: Goffman's Unfinished Work (But Would He Have Gone There?)

In twenty three years, 1959-1982, Goffman's productive work ended too soon at age sixty. Who knows what he could have produced had he lived another twenty seven years to 2009 at age eighty seven? Face to face interaction, now more than ever is losing embodiment. What we "give off" (the "silent language" of Edward T. Hall) is being abandoned. Epistolary exchange, e-mail, texting, facebook, twittering, blogging, video/telephone; all are means of communication presenting the self with relatively unmasked identity of the social interactants. The written word loses visual and auditory immediacy; the telephone maintains the voice, and the video phone maintains visual and auditory presence, but all lose co-presence. And now we enter the age of cyberspace where digital self presentation permits self construction with near total anonymity!

On the network, impression management and Goffman gamesmanship take a quantum leap of unbelievable magnitude and change. The virtual world tears asunder all conceptions of the traditional self as virtual reality environments utilize two and three-dimentional graphics. A new social world has been created as we witness computer-mediated communication spawning social interaction and self presentations in artificial, virtual communities. MUDS and MOOS constitute a "brave new (social) world" and is upon us. One must be brave as we approach it. For there are those who assert we have no choice. Enter futurist, Ray Kurzweil and the inevitable coming Age of Singularity, which we humans today, like it or not, are destined to pass into (it's an evolutionary thing). The question is, will we join 99% of all organic creation and become part of the fossil record when humanity as we now know it becomes unrecognizable?

Erving Goffman you died too soon. What would you say, today?

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *           

(Dmitri - at your discretion post to Comments and Dialogues)

September 9, 2009

When in Co-Presence the Mask is Removed
Goffman's Infrequent Moments: the Sacred as Authenticity and Intimacy

The Shalin hypothesis that "Goffman's infringements on the interaction order were strategic" is persuasive. Like very few, EG lived his art and created his legend. The duality of his persona is part of that legend. The overriding theme of PSEL is well known and the banal summary, in a phrase, comes down to "human encounters are primarily a theatrical performance". His portrayal of encounters heavily discount what some experience in fleeting moments as authenticity and intimacy, and occasionally obtained when enduring relations of friendship and love prevail. EG does not talk much of these relations. However consistent he was in the living of his life reflective of his art, we do have glimpses in moments when the mask was removed and the inner man and his emotions became evident. In his posting of May, 24, 2009 Neil Smelser tells of the development of years of friendship where despite verbal fencing and gamesmanship at the outset, acquaintance mellowed "toward a better relationship, first a more civil one, and moving toward one of honest, frank, and respectful . . . discussions . . . and then to the development of an outright friendship. . . . I became as close to Erving as anyone else . . . Harold Wilensky and I became his two best friends." Other memoirs by students and colleagues tell that in times of grief and other varying circumstances relations were "supportive, warm, friendly, generous, helpful, intimate". These latter encounters were not always "managed" and in these instances such relations re-shelved PSEL performance and the fear of discreditable embarrassment. I would contend authenticity and intimacy prevail when impression management evaporates.

A word about the use of the term "sacred" in the context of the imperative that actors sustain one another's self presentation on the alleged ever-present theatrical stage of life. It seems a disservice to everything embracing the word "sacred" to apply that term to momentary existential encounters that are but a "game" - a game where the players engage one another in duplicity. How can one possibly "honor" such a game? It's simply civility, cordiality, maintenance of sociality but certainly not sanctimonious.

When authenticity and intimacy prevail, one is in a Buberian moment of an I-Thou (Ich-Du) relationship. Martin Buber had much in common with George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman. For all three viewed human existence as a life of dialogue. Though Buber wrote "I and Thou" before EG published, he touches upon Goffmanian gamesmanship. When man encounters man in an EG way, for Buber the encounter is I-It (Ich-Es) - the opposite of I-Thou. To engage in impression management (an I-It encounter for Buber), one objectifies the other in a manipulative way. Hardly a meeting of mutuality, holistic existence of two persons. But Buber would say that in an I-Thou encounter, authenticity and intimacy prevail. In such moments friendship and love flourish. It is in these moments encounters are sacred.

Goffman's world of encountering is replete with manipulation. It is a world of Bildmensch (image men); a world of relations characterized by I-It relations. His world is devoid of Wesensmensch (men of essence) - those who meet in the spirit of I and Thou. If EG's identity carries charges of cynicism it may be attributed to his pervasive, dark Weltanschauung which embraces a point of view that conmanship is the name of the game. And yet, and yet . . . we owe him so much; for one must separate the idealism of hard-to-come-by authentic and intimate (I-Thou) moments from the reality of (I-It)  pervasive maneuvering employed all too frequently in the world of everyday life. Thanks Erving for shouting, "but look, the Emperor has no clothes!"


(Dmitri, - post in comments at your discretion)

September 14, 2009

Goffman: Sociology's Peck's Bad Boy:
Ethical Issues in Qualitative Research

Information received by the EGA from many contributors are supportive of the hypothesis that EG's "infringements on the interaction order" were research driven. Such confirmation by observers and victims lend credence to this observation. Like James Bosewll, EG was the perennial scrutinizer and often the visible note-taker of the social scene. Absent such motivation, one removes questionable behavior from the shelter of the doings of research and lead one to speculate about the psyche of the man and not the social scientist. But this is another issue.

So what about the doings of EG's research. It seems mixed. As the consummate participant observer, EG  was not always the provocateur. In his Ph.D. dissertation (1953), we note as a resident on the island of Unst doing field work, there is no indication of misbehavior in the presence of others. Research was done in 1949 and 1950 and obtained without disturbing the customary interaction order. His manners and decorum abided by community norms.

It should also be noted EG's M.A. dissertation, "Some Characteristics of Response to Depicted Experience", December, 1949, and a research project, "The Service Station Dealer: The Man and His Work", Published by Social Research, Inc., 1953 for the American Petroleum Institute, utilized interviewing and psychological projective tests; such research revealed nothing controversial in an ethical sense about the manner in which data was obtained. The point is made that EG did conduct research within accepted and routine boundaries for the aforementioned projects. If in the process of assembling data and formulating theoretical statements for later publications, research techniques take on a more questionable nature, then we enter an area of ethical issues in qualitative research.

Assuming EG's provocations were purposive to obtain data and formulate theory, does this legitimize apparent deception? Waitresses in restaurants, students in a one to one encounter and students en masse in a lecture hall, colleagues at moments of introduction, guests at a social gathering, all were subjected to EG's unpredictable behavior. In varying degrees, persons suffered social and emotional abuse and once burned, could always avoid encounters. Exception - the dependent, the vulnerable, and the powerless.

If a portion of EG's research techniques challenging the normative order resulted in his post 1959 major works and papers, then this technique joins other well known studies utilizing questionable research techniques along ethical lines. At what price must one pay to obtain knowledge? Many readers of the EGA are familiar with such research. I cite a few:

    1)  In the Wichita Jury Study (1954) University of Chicago Law Professor's attempted to study the jury decision-making process using hidden microphones to secretly record the deliberations of six separate civil cases. Recordings were made with the approval of opposing council and the judges involved in the cases - but jurors, defendants, and plaintiffs were not informed of any aspect of the research. Revelation led to a congressional hearing!

    2)  In a colloquium presentation by Laura Stark at NU, mention was made of a researcher able to notify a group of students via a bogus announcement that they "failed" or were "rejected" to advance to another level.

    3)  The Milgram study on "Obedience" is a classic known to all psychology students.

    4)  Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment (1971) where a planned two-week "prison simulation" resulted in a shut down on day six when the situation got out of hand.

    5)  In 1972 Piliavin-Piliavin conducted an experiment to understand "bystander apathy" whereby a crisis was staged on a crowded train with a "victim" feigning  collapse, at times with no bleeding, and at other times bleeding from the mouth (faked). It was reported some passengers panicked at the sight of blood and others tried to stop the train by pulling on the emergency cord.

The game playing research technique EG had in common with the above is deception. So when is deception justified in social research? If ever.

I share the view that in science, research and in the living of one's life and work, Samuel Johnson states it quite well .  .  .  . "There is no crime more infamous than the violation of truth. It is apparent that men can be social beings no longer than they believe each other. When speech is employed only as the vehicle of falsehood, every man must disunite himself from others, inhabit his own cave and seek prey only for himself." (Johnson: Idler #20. August 20, 1758).


(Dmitri - Submitted for discretionary posting in Comments and Dialogue section for EGA)

February 12, 2010

Dmitri -

Quite true Angelica Schuyler Choate didn't fall in line with de rigueur behavioral prescriptions of her day for upper-upper class women. She abandoned social milieu expectations by going to college! Her dissertation research revealed only 6 of 30 upper-upper women "attended college one or more years". Though all 30 respondents graduated from "private secondary schools" - 24 women went no further. We don't know how many of the 6 college attendees graduated but we do know Angelica did, and more so, she did not settle for the B.A. but went on to pursue the Clearly she wanted more than church, gardening, children, volunteering, and home management. What Goffman's expectations were from a woman as wife, we do not know, but her breakaway from class expectations by pursuing an advanced degree, unusual for a woman with her background, should have been a clue that this young woman was not to be kept on a short leash.

How "blue" was her blood? Pretty deep if she was the daughter of Robert Burnett Choate, editor (some sources say publisher) of the Boston Herald, whose lineage goes back to the founder of Choate School, a Connecticut preppy bastion now called Choate Rosemary Hall. Alumni of Choate include John F. Kennedy and brother Joseph, Paul Mellon, Amanda Hearst, Richard Rockefeller, Adlai Stevenson and others of kindred mold.

Can one say Angelica disavowed her class origins with the bohemian lifestyle (Sherri Cavan commentary October 11)?  Yes, she lived in a tenement (Gerald Handel biographical posting 02-16-09) and married "down" to Goffman. Rebellion? Sure. But this troubled and emotionally conflicted young woman must be viewed with sympathy and given credit for dealing with "the problem that had no name" more than a decade before the second wave of feminism caught fire; that time when the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" impacted on women. Angelica, along with other women (Sherri Cavan, you are among this group) in the late 1940's and into the 1950's were the pace setters of their day.

So a shared academic interest in matters sociological led to friendship, love, and marriage. One can only speculate as to what emotional needs were met for both in a complementary way. But Angelica, as a "tense" person, so characterized by more than a few who knew her, got progressively worse as the years after childbirth ensued until she tragically ended her life.  In terms of need fulfillment, on the surface she married an acknowledged and renowned scholar with whom she shared intellectuality and obtained pleasure from his achievements. Additionally, and more importantly, one can only hope she derived emotional support in what must have been many times of stress.

Goffman married "up" and obtained a "trophy wife" - albeit a bit dusty - but solid sterling silver, nonetheless.


(Dmitri - post at your discretion in the Commentary section of the EGA)

February 23, 2010


From the Anne Averback Goffman family album (URL:,
how telling is the photograph of Erving with older sister, Frances, delightfully posing in an "on-stage", strutting position. Erving looks to be a young, possibly a pre-adolescent youth. The photo reveals an inkling for theatricality -  and at this point in his life, it is physically staged behavior. Take note of his stance. Cap tilted sideways, white scarf wrapped around the neck, left hand in his side pocket, right arm extended out, cocked as Frances wraps her left arm around his, above the elbow. And ahh .  .  .   Erving's left leg is extended out forward as they both look at one another, while she has artfully lowered her right arm a bit with an open hand positioned palm down, against her mid-section body. These are two kids playing around in a theatrical way having fun. Wonderful!

From the Frances Bay (Goffman-Averback) family album, Frances tells us of .  .  . "a defining factor was being turned on to theater by 7th grade teacher Mary Hamilton who suggested I should be an actress. My mother made my first costume: I was a Chinese princess in a very tragic play. Since that time I wanted to be an actress." And so it was. She went on to live a life in theatre. Frances was born in 1919 and the older sister set the tone for "staging" one's behavior, albeit, in quite a different way that was eventually obtained by younger brother Erving.

But in his own right, the Erving Goffman section of the Anne Averback Goffman family album, reveals .  .  . "During a visit to Winnipeg  .  .  .  he would movingly recite a very sentimental poem about 'My Pal' which never failed to bring tears to the family audience." And while attending St. John's High School in Winnipeg he displayed .  .  . "irrepressible humor. Little known is that he portrayed one of the two gravediggers in the school's performance of Hamlet and he substituted real alcohol for the water intended for unsuspecting and surprised cast members."

So we have incipient developing consciousness of theatricality emerging in early life. But the path limited to life on stage for Goffman takes a quantum leap to the theoretical assertion that one never leaves the stage at the local Bijou venue; for when in the presence of others we are  really never "off-stage"! Enter the monumental "Presentation of Self in Everyday Life"!

How the bridge from the traditional conception of "acting" as Goffman knew it as a youth, to the argument that all is performance on the ongoing stage of day to day living is another story. And I leave that for another time or another writer. Suffice to say theatricality was present in Goffman's life at an early age, and one way or another, he never left the "stage".


(Dmitri - for posting on the EGA at your discretion - My son has attached the photograph to this communique and I hope that it comes through for viewing.)

October 6, 2010


The mighty four hundred foot redwood crashes to the ground in a windstorm and no one is around to hear it. Does noise prevail? Is the essence and magnitude of the sound diminished as a physical event because humans are not present?

In Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, dealing with an emerging, performed self in co-presence with others, Goffman has written some memorable lines. "In analyzing the self . . . the person('s). . . body merely provides the peg on which something of collaborative manufacture will be hung for a time. .  . The self, then, as a performed character, is not an organic thing that has a specific location, whose fundamental fate is to be born, to mature, and to die; it is a dramatic effect arising diffusely from a scene that is presented .  .  ." (PSEL pp. 252-253). So the self is "a dramatic effect" with no tangible referent but emerges from a metaphorical "peg".

In the closing paragraphs of PSEL (p 254) Goffman writes further .  . "And here the language and mask of the stage will be dropped. Scaffolds, after all, are to build other things with, and should be erected with an eye to taking them down". Assuredly Goffman's sturdy scaffold remains intact and I have no notion to take it down (can anyone?). But I would like to add a plank or two, sort of an extension, to give that peg some skin, bones, blood and a brain when such peg is alone with fantasies and dreams and in solitude is reflecting on the happenings of the past, the present and future. What am I, peg that I am, as I now type these words? I know I am pulsating in silent self reflective language and am neither back stage adjusting props or colluding in team work with friends, nor am I on stage interacting with others; but I am definitely off-stage, musing, with no one else present! At this moment I am more than "just a peg". I am a solitary, reflective self, anticipating the soon to be doings of the day. I am alive. I myself, possess a solitary self as real and potent as my interactive self and the reality of this self exists, much as does the sound of the crashing tree in the forest though no one is within earshot of the noise. Though I am not now in the presence of others, there is a reality to my "solitary self" because I affirm with confidence that my physical self in absentia (a "peg"), embodies a social self and exists in the minds of others with whom I have engaged. Such others surely query, "what's going on with Arnie Glass", when they are alone or in co-presence with others with whom I have interacted. Yes. When the ball is over and the many pegs disperse, all of those who were at the dance, remember their partners and with such a memory, all live on in the minds of others, not merely as pegs but as selves. Is there no verity to collective memory? I suggest there is reality to that off stage peg which is more than just wood and I would designate it as Goffman's neglected self.

(Dmitri and Sherri - At your discretion post in the Commentary section of EGA - Arnie)

November 15, 2010

Hi Sherri -

Not sure where you're at in the writing stage of your work on Erving. Possibly you've done this already, but give some consideration to writing, probably in a preface or introduction to the body of the book, a discussion of the Confidentiality and Privacy issue; those matters already posted in the Goffman Archives wherein you, Gary Marx, Jackie Wiseman, and Dmitri weigh in on this subject in consideration of Goffman's desire for privacy about his personal life and his subsequent instructions to seal his records upon his death. Much in the postings of July 10, 11, August 1, 2, and 8 - 2009 cover a lot of territory in this regard.

I've expressed my thoughts on the issue as posted in the EGA Comments section.To sum it up I conclude Erving's was an unreasonable expectation since he was a very public man who in his lifetime, was fully engaged with others and did not live a solitary, reclusive life. As the reluctant subject of personal enquiry he continues to be eminently celebrated with a growing public of hundreds of thousands who have read his books and acknowledge him to be a major figure in sociology. As such, he does not have a legitimate claim to squelch other's memories and impressions about him; yes, even in death. Can anyone imagine suppressing what is known about Tolstoy, Samuel Johnson, Lincon, Freud, and thousands of great women and men in the literary, political, intellectual, and art world? Consistent with his arguments in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving, too, presented himself in numerous ways and made divers impressions embedded in the minds of many with whom he interacted. He reveals many faces as a friend, acquaintance, professor, mentor, family man, and general interactant with others beyond academia. The multifaceted self presentations reveal a man of complexity and contradiction. Not unusual for a genius. Like Walt Whitman he can say .  .  .  "I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes". And don't we all!

What we are dealing with is biographical gossip. I hold gossip has gotten a bum rap. It's a term not to always be viewed pejoratively. A working definition of gossip from my view is this; simply put, gossip occurs when two or more engage in informational communication, often in an evaluative way, about another who is known to them - but is not present. The business of interpersonal sociality and of the larger society cannot proceed without such doings and shared information. Thus the line between (biographical) gossip and intellectual history is thin (Gary Alan Fine) but one must view the goodness and necessity of gossip in human affairs. Stay the course.


(Sherri, Dmitri - If at all helpful, use this in any way you'd like).


Hi Dmitri,

This is my response to your suggestion to expand a bit on my paper (Much Ado About the Real Self. Remarks Prompted by a Reading of Turner's AJS Article "The Real Self: From Institution to Impulse") and elucidate implications for my "understanding of Goffman's take on self and it's ir/reality". In doing this, there are several considerations to explore. One is to scrutinize the words "self" and "real/reality"; another, to clarify and explicate the words, when in combination they create the phrase, "real self". How one uses the terms (self, real, reality) either singly or combined in a phrase (real self) guides the discussion.

To avoid semantic confusion, I take the position that Goffman uses the word "self" not as a noun, but as a verb. I also take the position that the phrases "real self", "true self" connote "authenticity" - as in the phrase "authentic self"  - which I suggest is reflective of one's intention that can be measured/experienced as in Randall Collins' phrase, elevated "emotional energy", which is obtained in the moment by the actor.

Operationally, all self-presentations are real in so far as all social interaction is consequential. Whether the actors are "sincere"  or "cynical" is not the issue. What matters is, that what one sees, is that which one gets. And in human symbolic exchanges, in varying degrees, all who are interacting with one another - in the situation - experience a level of felt, emotional comfort or discomfort. End point is that Goffman's microsociological perspective assumes the primacy of the situation and not the individual. The individual "self" is a consequence of the situation.

Tangentially, at another level regarding implications in viewing the "ir/reality" of the Goffman "self", I speculate the possibility of polarized politicization of a sort emerging between politically conservative individuals who would disagree and hold that the selves of individuals are basically fixed and immutable and are, therefore, responsible for their own successes or failures. At the other end of the spectrum, there may be those of liberal leaning persuasion who may affirm the validity of the argument expressed in this paper and they may be inclined to support social action to alleviate social "problems".

But I shall not deeply pursue such conjecture in this writing, but indulge me a bit for I'd like to share with you an anecdote from Gary Marx's entry in the EGA. He tells of an incident in a deviance class where a student said "this is all very interesting Professor Goffman, but what's the use of it for changing the conditions you describe? Goffman was visibly shaken. He stood up, slammed shut the book he had open on the desk and said 'I'm not in that business' and stormed out of the room".  

My own orientation in seeking knowledge and "truth" is to abide by a maxim - "If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties". (Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning -1605 - Book 1,v, 8. But then, I know I do not often abide by this wisdom. But I leave this side issue and continue the discussion.

In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, did Goffman intend to regard the self as a noun? I think not. To do so renders the concept an arbitrary construction with specificity, reifying the individual and freezing the fluid nature of the social world from whence the self emerges. Thus, the presentation of one's self in myriad encounters assumes it is a predictably known entity. Is it? Might it not be more accurate to view Goffman's self as a verb, in a state of being and becoming?

In the preface to PSEL (pg. xi) he writes .  .  "The perspective employed in this report is that of the theatrical performance; the principles derived are dramaturgical ones". But one must ask, what kind of theatrical performance is this? The answer is that it is theater without a script! The drama of everyday life  is improvisational with occasional pre-meditated impression management surfacing at unpredictable moments. One's performative self-presentation is in an ever changing state-of-being and is always .  .  . becoming.  And that ephemerality is what constitutes and defines Goffman's concept of the self.

Goffman cites Robert Park (PSEL pg. 19) .    .  "It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person, in its first meaning, is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere more or less consciously, playing a role . . .  It is in these roles that we know each other; it is in these roles that we know ourselves". I would only add that the roles we play are an indeterminate number and in each we present a self, unlike any other -  for no moment in time is like another.

Goffman speaks .  .  .  "The self is not an organic thing that has a specific location, whose fundamental fate is to be born, to mature and die; it is a dramatic effect arising diffusely from a scene that is presented. . . . The self can be seen as something that resides in the arrangements prevailing in a social system for its members. The self in this sense is not a property of the person to whom it is attributed, but dwells rather in the pattern of social control that is exerted in connection with the person by himself and those around him. This special kind of institutional arrangement does not so much support the self as constitute it. . . . The proper study of man is not the individual and his psychology, but rather the syntactical relations among acts of different persons mutually present to one another.". Ergo . . .  "Not men and their moments, but moments and their men".

Resurrecting the question of the "real" in the phrase, the real me - William James, in a letter to Mrs. James (1878) writes .  .  .  "The best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply active and alive. At such moments there is an active voice which speaks and says: 'THIS is the real me!'" Take note the words .  .  . "he felt himself most deeply active and alive". Might not that feeling state be - elevated "emotional energy" (Randall Collins)? And this feeling state can occur when the individual, either in the company of others, or yes, when alone in a solitary state! In this latter instance the social self evaporates as one engages in reflexivity wherein one views oneself as an object of self enquiry. This is the state of the solitary self. But then "life is with people" and so James says . . . "A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him . . .  and a man has as many different social selves as there are different groups of persons about whose opinion he cares". (Principles of Psychology (1890).
The "intellectual DNA" that nurtured Erving Goffman linking him to his predecessors is well known to readers of, and contributors to the EGA; therefore, with few exceptions, I shall not engage in redundant exposition of his indebtedness to James, Simmel, Dewey, Freud, Cooley, Mead. Park, Durkheim, Burke, Schutz, Radcliffe-Brown, Hughes, Blumer, Sartre and numerous philosophers of a phenomenological bent, etc., etc., etc. But listen to another orientation and voice; that of a Russian philosopher, literary critic, and semiotician, Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895-1975), whom I believe affirms the argument of viewing the ir/reality of the Goffman construct, the "self", as a noun.

Goffman had not yet been born, but the seeds of a similar orientation to the self were germinating by Bakhtin as early as 1919-1921. Very little of Bakhtin's work was published in his lifetime. But in the 1960's, scholars rediscovered his work and in 1972, researchers found a mutilated and incomplete manuscript written during the aforementioned time frame. These papers eventually were published in 1986 under the English title "Toward a Philosophy of the Act". No dear reader, do not mistakenly attribute George Herbert Mead's posthumous 1938 publication of his unpublished papers edited by Charles W. Morris, whose title is "The Philosophy of the Act", to Bakhtin's seminal work. There is no evidence that in the writing stages of both works that Mead and Bakhtin knew one another. Nor is there evidence that Goffman knew of Bakhtin. But serendipitously, some of the content of Bakhtin's work was complementary to Mead's ouvre - markedly so, especially also, does it link to Mead's "Mind, Self & Society" published in 1934 also under Morris's editorship, as does also Bakhtin's coexistent link to Goffman. If only they had known of one another! But alas, this was not to be fated. What follows is extracted from Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist's study on "Mikhail Bakhtin", Harvard University Press, 1984, and a profound paper by M. Folch-Serra, "Place, Voice, Space: Mikhail Bakhtin's Dialogical Landscape" (Environment and Planning: Society and Space, 1990, Volume 8, pp. 255-274).

On Bakhtin, Clark and Holquist write .  .  . "How we act in the drama of speech situations reveals who we are. An utterance is always between a self and an other and constitutes the primal workings of self-identification. Like Freud, on whom he was working at the same time, Bakhtin has a specific conception of identity formation. But there the similarity ends, for Bakhtin's model is the polar opposite of that on which classical psychoanalysis is based. In Freud, the movement is from the infant's (developing) ego, through increasing repression, to the socialized self of (an) adult who can delay ego gratification. In Bakhtin, on the contrary, the movement is from a non-self to a self that is the sum of its discursive practices. In Freudianism he argues that 'any instance of self-awareness is an act of gauging oneself against some social norm. Social evaluation, is so to speak, the socialization of oneself and one's behavior. In becoming aware of myself, I attempt to look at myself, as it were, through the eyes of another person'. In Freud, self is repressed in the service of the social; in Bakhtin, self is precisely a function of the social. In Freud, the more of the other, the less of the self; in Bakhtin, the more of the other, the more of the self".

And M. Folch-Serra writes .  .  .  "Bakhtin's view of all cultural production being rooted in language has the effect of breaking down walls between text and context. The barrier between 'inside' and 'outside' is an artificial one, for there is an easy flow between the two. Dialogue takes place between the centrifugal forces of subjectivity, which are chaotic and particular, and the centripetal forces of system, which are rule-driven and abstract. This is one of the notions that helps in understanding a text 'redolent with contexts', at every point inflected by history and shaped by events.

Dialogism presupposes the 'I' and the 'you', and every instance of discourses is immediately linked to a specific, shared situation - there is no discursive meaning then, without interlocution and context.

The above reasoning has strong implications for ethnographic research which deals with translating the real life experience shared by the researcher and the researched into an abstract language that ought to be understood by a community of scholars far removed from the actual place and time of the encounter. Bakhtinian notions come to the rescue of the ethnographic experience for the unit of analysis for studying texts according to the ratio and nature of the temporal and spatial categories represented. . . . . However, a question arises: from what temporal and spatial point of view does the author look upon the events described? The ethnographer has no other choice than to remain outside the world in the work, the text. He or she cannot be part of the narrative, nor share in the discourse of the subjects, not even in the case of accurate autobiography. Author-creators, even if they could create the most truthful autobiography of confession, would still remain excluded from the universe they have portrayed simply in so far as they have produced it. 'If I should recount or write an event I have just experienced, then the mere act of narrating (or writing) this will place me outside the time-space in which it has occured . . . However realistic or authentic a represented universe may be, yet it can never be chronotopically(1) identical to the real representing universe in which the author-creator of the representation of the author is located. 'It is impossible to be absolutely identified with oneself, to reconcile one's veritable "I" with the "I" of his narration, just as it is inconceivable to lift oneself up by his own hair' ".

(1) Chronotope - a term employed by Bakhtin to refer to the co-ordinates of time and space.

And so I summarize to say only with all of the philosophical, linguistic, literary, and sociological furniture being moved about so frequently, it seems this also  touches upon a controversial Buddha-like core insight of unyielding vacuity wherein despite the primacy of non-self, one is able to evolve in a clumsy way to a known, functional self within a social matrix. Absent a social matrix wherein the individual is embedded in the world of symbolic exchange with others, then the individual is essentially without a meaningful "social self". The self emerges through a process. The social self exists precariously but It, like all else, is transient. Do not view the Goffman self as a noun. It is a verb!

I close to tell a humorous happening. Beverly Sills (now deceased), the world renowned coloratura soprano of the seventies and eighties, related that years after she retired from the opera stage, when shopping in a Manhattan department store, was approached enthusiastically by a young woman who asked, "aren't you Bevery Sills"? Ms. Sills smiled, paused, and said . . .  "I used to be".

Arnie Glass


* 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).