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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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4. Goffman’s Method


c h a p t e r f o u r Goffman’s Method So, what was Goffman’s method? Well, everyone says he hadn’t any, that he was more of an essayist than a traditional sociologist.1 Admittedly, Goffman never said a lot about his methods explicitly. Becker (2003) provides the likely logic, saying Goffman felt very strongly that you could not elaborate any useful rules of procedure for doing field research and that, if you attempted to do that, people would misinterpret what you had written, do it (whatever it was) wrong, and then blame you for the resulting mess. He refused to accept responsibility for such unfortunate possibilities. (Becker, 2003, p. 660) But that does not mean Goffman was not methodical about his inquiry, or even that he did not know his methodology. Review of his methods is possible through a variety of sources: as he told his readers about them, as he practiced them, and as he commented upon them. First, Goffman explained his approach in brief prefaces, asides, and footnotes. Certainly, there is no formula outlined in any of his work, comparable to what many others provide those who would emulate them. Despite this, there are a number of comments on methodology—more than it would appear at first read- ing, especially when they are excerpted and compiled from their original contexts. A reader must search out and collect them like rare butterflies, but they are there, Winkin Final_Winkin fin 5/14/13 2:...

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