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Canadian-born and educated sociologist Erving Goffman (1922-1982) published his influential book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, on this date in 1959. The book proposes that people are always on stage, playing roles, giving performances, reading from scripts, wearing masks, and presenting themselves to audiences while also managing their identities on private, backstage sets — which have been largely constructed for them by others. People, said Goffman, become who they pretend to be. His other books include Asylums and Encounters (1961), Stigma and Behavior in Public Places (1963), Interaction Ritual (1967), Strategic Interaction and Where the Action Is (1969), Relations in Public (1971), Frame Analysis (1974), Gender Advertisements (1979), and Forms of Talk (1981). Goffman is one of the most-cited authors in the social sciences for his major insights into the sociology of everyday life, social interaction, the social construction of self, mental illness, game theory, linguistics, ethnography, institutions, stigma, and more. Marshall Berman described him as “the Kafka of our time” for so vividly describing the “horror and anguish — as well as some of the absurd comedy — of everyday life.”
“Society is an insane asylum run by the inmates.” —Erving Goffman
Our thanks to Dan Brook, who teaches sociology at San Jose State University, for this JEWDAYO entry.