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A Review of Goffman’s Sociological Thought: Controversy and Reflection

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China Social Science Review

No.2, 2021


A Review of Goffman’s Sociological Thought: Controversy and Reflection



Wang Qingfeng


Erving Goffman, well-known among Western scholars for his dramaturgical theory, has an outstanding reputation. However, there is no lack of criticism and controversy surrounding his research, including his handling of situations with conceptual methods, having dramaturgical actors conceal the demise of the subject, and presenting a social world that lacks power struggles, hierarchies, history, culture and institutional change. His pursuit of a formalized theory has also been criticized. In terms of methodology, critics argue that Goffman’s sociology lacks fully self-consistent methodological principles, resulting in such shortcomings as arbitrary choice of themes, vague concepts, failure to provide rigorous data sources and the fact that his work does not form a cumulative whole. Furthermore, his academic language is more literary than scientific. In addition to the criticisms raised by academics, divergent views have also been raised by different commentators. These criticisms, controversies and disagreements simply reflect the uniqueness of Goffman’s research in terms of theory, methodology, and rhetorical style. Systematic presentation and reflection on his work will give us a better understanding of Goffman’s overall social thought and its important position in the intellectual history of sociology.