chapter  2
23 Pages

Erving Goffman

What is a life? The uneasy making of an intellectual biography
WithYves Winkin

Erving Goffman never wrote about his own life. The only autobiographical lines that the reader can share are those in the preface to Asylums (Goffman 1961a) and two or three footnotes in Interaction Ritual (Goffman 1967): these deal with the conditions of his fieldwork in mental hospitals and contain nothing personal. Goffman did not reveal very much about his life, his youth, his family or his past experiences to either his colleagues or friends. Many of them had vague notions about him, but these were usually associated with the multiplicity of anecdotes about Goffman as a personage rather than with his actual social and intellectual trajectory. Insights into the person behind the personage are hard to find, as only brief glimpses were ever obtained. Perhaps the sole reliable published comment about Goffman is his own remark to Dell Hymes, which was, ‘You forget that I grew up (with Yiddish) in a town where to speak another language was to be suspect of being homosexual’ (Hymes 1984:628).