Erving Goffman’s work is approachable and subtle, combining sociology, social anthropology and social psychology in a manner that challenges petty disciplinarity. He is also among the most mundanely useful of writers. How many other social scientists can illuminate the full spectrum of our faceto-face encounters, from an evening in relaxed good company to the most formal of life-cycle rituals? He has no rivals in the sociological interpretation of everyday life. Even so, there are four established criticisms of his work:

• that, if not merely descriptive, it isn’t a systematic body of theory; • that it doesn’t integrate the everyday world within ‘social structure’; • that his analyses are too specific to the modern (American) human world

to be generalisable; and • that his actors are hollow shells, that he offers no account of the

formation of selfhood and only a cynical account of motivation.