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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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5. Observing the Interaction Order Through Goffman’s Eyes


c h a p t e r f i v e Observing the Interaction Order Through Goffman’s Eyes1 Drawing Patterns How is it possible to catch sight of the interaction order as Goffman did? He had a sharp eye for all too evanescent interactions, and used a subtle pen to describe them in sharp detail. He also had a stunning capacity to build conceptual general- izations from bits and pieces of observational data he collected, whether primary data (based on his own fieldwork) or secondary (based on reports of others). Ap- plying his concepts to the world around us is not as easy as it may appear, and re- quires training. The world resists, so to speak. Very often, students we have sent into the field come back and tell us there is nothing to see. In fact, the problem is that there is just too much to see. One needs to learn to see, or rather to see anew. Chapter 4 emphasized the significance of patterns for Goffman: he viewed their discovery as one of his central goals. As a way to enter smoothly into Goffman’s vi- sion of the social world, to see through his eyes as it were, we offer here a very sim- ple technique for discovering interactional patterns: drawing silhouettes based on photographs. Why not use photographs directly? Pictures are so easy to take these days, so easy even to take inconspicuously, with a tiny camera, a smartphone, or whatever device....

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