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Erving Goffman

A Critical Introduction to Media and Communication Theory


Yves Winkin and Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz

Although Erving Goffman never claimed to be a media or communication scholar, his work is definitely relevant to, and has already served as a substantial resource for, those who are. This is the first detailed presentation and analysis of his life and work intended specifically for a communication audience. While primarily an introduction to Goffman’s work, those already familiar with his ideas will also learn something new. In addition to summarizing Goffman’s major concepts and his influence on other scholars, the book includes an intellectual biography, explication of his methods, and an example of how to extend his ideas. Readers are invited to consider Goffman as a lens through which to view much of the pattern evident in the social world. Goffman’s work always appealed to the general public (several of his books became bestsellers), and so this book has implications for those who are interested in the role of media or communication in their own lives as well as those who study it professionally.


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The present book is concerned with Erving Goffman’s contribution generally, but in particular to media and communication theory. Although Goffman dealt di- rectly with media products only in his final few years, and ultimately rebuked an extended notion of communication, his work is nonetheless a treasure trove for media and communication students and scholars. Goffman was an especially graceful writer who wove together his observations (whether of the Shetland Isles or St. Elizabeth’s) with the reports of others. No less a scholar than Anthony Giddens praises the “manifest brilliance” of his writ- ings (1984, p. xxiv). Goffman’s emphasis on description over theory makes his work unusually accessible. He developed extensive taxonomies for understanding the structure underlying interaction. These attributes brought his work substantial at- tention. We would argue that his publications all explored essentially the same topic: the social construction and presentation of the self, relationships, and social reality, through language and interaction. He always took a microanalytic approach (attending to small details of everyday behavior), but each work emphasized a dif- ferent aspect of interaction, providing new terminology for the study of the self and relationships with others. Discussing a publication by someone else, which overlapped in terms of content but did not cite Goffman, Dell Hymes pointed out in a letter to Goffman, “At least you have the comfort of being able to write in an inimitable way! Others can get Winkin Final_Winkin fin 5/14/13 2:32 PM Page 1 the...

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