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Think of Mrs Darling

Jenny Diski: Erving Goffman, 4 March 2004

Goffman's Legacy 
edited by Javier Treviño.
Rowman and Littlefield, 294 pp., £22.95, August 2003, 0 7425 1978 3
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... background, forgotten bass rhythm throughout their lives. Certainly, I had forgotten about reading Erving Goffman in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Asylums, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and, I think, Stigma. They were required reading, part of the unofficial University of Pelican Books course on gathering information and ideas about the ...

Cold Sweat

Alan Bennett, 15 October 1981

Forms of Talk 
by Erving Goffman.
Blackwell, 335 pp., £12, September 1981, 0 631 12788 7
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... Common predicaments and awkward moments with a particular appeal to any reader of the works of Erving Goffman. There was a time when I imagined those readers were few. As with all the best books, I took Goffman’s work to be somehow a secret between me and the author, and incidents such as I have detailed above our ...

At the Wellcome

Will Self: Bedlam, The Asylum and Beyond, 17 November 2016

... maintaining a paradoxical view: the asylum is at once an essential refuge, and – in the words of Erving Goffman, one of its most effective critics – a ‘total institution’, which, under the guise of protecting its patients, all too often succeeds only in dehumanising them. David Beales’s drawing of Guy Ward, Bethlem Hospital (2003) from his ...


Peter Barham: Madness in the nineteenth century, 17 August 2006

Madness at Home: The Psychiatrist, the Patient and the Family in England 1820-60 
by Akihito Suzuki.
California, 260 pp., £32.50, March 2006, 0 520 24580 6
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... of his study are restricted to the upper classes. In a celebrated essay from the early 1970s, Erving Goffman explored ‘the insanity of place’, the havoc inflicted on a household by the apparent failure, or inability, of one family member to maintain his or her place in the network of relationships. The family had to respond not only to the ...

Neurotic Health

Michael Shepherd, 17 December 1981

Becoming Psychiatrists 
by Donald Light.
Norton, 429 pp., £10.95, June 1981, 0 393 01168 2
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... detail, with too much jargon and without the stylistic elegance which renders the studies of Erving Goffman so persuasive. And, like all exercises in microsociology, a preoccupation with the trees tends to be accompanied by a myopic perception of the forest. In particular, by concentrating on a single institution, Light does inadequate justice to ...

A Man’s Man’s World

Steven Shapin: Kitchens, 30 November 2000

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly 
by Anthony Bourdain.
Bloomsbury, 307 pp., £16.99, August 2000, 0 7475 5072 7
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... Circulating freely between kitchen and dining-room was the young Canadian American sociologist Erving Goffman, who had come all the way from Chicago to observe what passed across the boundary between stage performance and backstage preparation. That kitchen stood proxy for all the social world’s backstages. If the passage between that kitchen and ...


Peter Burke, 16 September 1982

Le Roi-Machine: Spectacle et Politique au Temps de Louis XIV 
by Jean-Marie Apostolidès.
Les Editions de Minuit, 164 pp., £4.50
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Le Portrait du Roi 
by Louis Marin.
Les Editions de Minuit, 300 pp., £5.60
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... as he calls it, is a necessary part of their ‘mystery’. Part of their ‘front’, as Erving Goffman would say. Like Marin and Apostolidès, Pascal is concerned with demystification, if for somewhat different reasons. One is left with the question whether there is any essential difference between the public image of Louis XIV and those of ...

When in Bed

David Blackbourn, 19 October 1995

Reflections on a Life 
by Norbert Elias.
Polity, 166 pp., £35, October 1994, 0 7456 1383 7
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The Civilising Process 
by Norbert Elias.
Blackwell, 558 pp., £50, March 1994, 0 631 19222 0
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... the émigré historian Francis Carsten. Gradually its arguments were taken up more widely – by Erving Goffman in his work on self-presentation, and by Pierre Bourdieu, who is mainly responsible for establishing the use of Elias’s term ‘habitus’. Nothing came of several early efforts to publish an English translation, one reason being the ...


Frank Cioffi, 22 September 1994

A Pack of Lies: Towards a Sociology of Lying 
by J.A. Barnes.
Cambridge, 200 pp., £35, June 1994, 0 521 45376 3
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... unaware of the services they provide it is difficult to see how this qualifies as deceit at all. Erving Goffman offers us a more accurate way of describing such situations when he distinguishes ‘managing information’ from ‘managing tension’: the blind person who pretends to sight is being deceitful, but the known-to-be-blind who nevertheless ...


Gillian Bennett: Self-impersonation, 3 November 2005

The Woman who Pretended to Be who She Was: Myths of Self-Impersonation 
by Wendy Doniger.
Oxford, 272 pp., £17.99, January 2005, 0 19 516016 9
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... so eloquently and learnedly explored. Her point of departure is her disagreement with the thesis Erving Goffman elaborated in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he proposed that we all have ‘front’ and ‘back’ stages, the former where we present ourselves in public to others, the latter where we take off the mask and allow ...


Peter Burke, 20 March 1986

Velazquez: Painter and Courtier 
by Jonathan Brown.
Yale, 322 pp., £35, March 1986, 0 300 03466 0
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El Greco and his Patrons: Three Major Projects 
by Richard Mann.
Cambridge, 164 pp., £35, February 1986, 0 521 30392 3
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... as representations) of the sitter to the spectator: in other words, as documents of what the late Erving Goffman used to call ‘impression management’. The painted face is a means of creating and maintaining social face, with the advantage that it is relatively easy for the artist to adjust the appearance of the sitter to the requirements of his or ...

The Impostor

Peter Burke, 19 April 1984

Le Retour de Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis, Jean-Claude Carrière and Daniel Vigne.
Robert Laffont, 269 pp.
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The Return of Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis.
Harvard, 162 pp., £12.75, October 1983, 0 674 76690 3
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... the actions of peasants being a subject fit only for comedy. One might add, paraphrasing the late Erving Goffman, another social anthropologist concerned with the drama of social life, that Arnaud showed remarkable gifts for the presentation, or misrepresentation, of self, culminating in the courtroom scene where he remembered certain details of ...


Frank Cioffi, 8 May 1997

Lectures on Conversation: Vols I-II 
by Harvey Sacks, edited by Gail Jefferson.
Blackwell, 1520 pp., £35, January 1995, 1 55786 705 4
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... Kingsmill really that between mere folk wisdom and science? It is characteristic of Sacks (as of Erving Goffman, whose influence he acknowledges) to take an aperçu, like Kingsmill’s, of the felt gap between our intimate selves and our social identities and to extend it in such a way that we lose the contrast that gave it its point. Sacks regularly ...


William Ian Miller: Jon Elster, 10 August 2000

Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 450 pp., £14.95, March 1999, 0 521 64487 9
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... that frown on any citation that is older than a decade, Montaigne stands no better chance than Erving Goffman. Wheels are reinvented with astounding regularity – if we’re lucky; just as often we lose the skills and talents to reinvent them or reinvent them looking more like triangles and squares. Elster’s first essay – ‘A Plea for ...


Hal Foster: Dead to the World, 29 July 2021

Absentees: On Variously Missing Persons 
by Daniel Heller-Roazen.
Zone, 320 pp., £28, April, 978 1 942130 47 5
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... as an indigent ‘specimen’ in a charity hospital in France in 1921, and to the sociologist Erving Goffman, whose dissertation in 1953 concerned the ‘civil inattention’ practised on Shetland. Such silent treatment is hardly provincial, let alone past; today we call it ‘ghosting’.Forced to wear a scarlet letter of shame for all to ...

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