Tag Archives: Erving Goffman

Revisiting Erving Goffman’s Asylums and “The Insanity of Place”

A recent article in Symbolic Interaction provides insight into sociologist Erving Goffman’s work on mental illness. As part of a freely available special issue dedicated to Goffman, Dmitri N. Shalin explores the role of Goffman’s personal biography on his work. In addition to a more general piece on this subject, “Interfacing Biography, Theory and History: The Case of Erving Goffman,” Shalin details how Goffman’s Asylums, as well as a briefer piece “The Insanity of Place” were informed by his personal experiences. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Interfacing Biography, Theory and History: The Case of Erving Goffman,” Dmitri N. Shalin. The abstract reads,

This study aims to show that much of Erving Goffman’s writing is crypto-biographical and that key turns in his intellectual career reflected his life’s trajectory and attempts at self-renewal. The case is made that Goffman’s theoretical corpus reflects his personal experience as a son of Russian–Jewish immigrants who struggled to raise himself from the obscurity of Canadian Manitoba to international stardom. The concluding section describes the Erving Goffman Archives and the contribution that the large database of documents and biographical materials assembled therein can make to biocritical hermeneutics, a research program focused on the relationship between biography, theory, and history.

“Goffman on Mental Illness: Asylums and “The Insanity of Place” Revisited,” Dmitri N. Shalin. The abstract reads,

This case study is designed to demonstrate that sociological imagination can feed on personal experience, that research practice interpolates our biographical circumstances, and that a systematic inquiry into the interplay between our professional and everyday life offers a fruitful avenue for sociological analysis. The discussion focuses on Erving Goffman’s treatment of mental illness. The argument is made that the evolution of Goffman’s constructionist views on mental disorder had been influenced by his family situation and personal experience.

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New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The April 2011 issue of History of the Human Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue are eight all new articles as well as three book reviews. Among the topics addressed in these articles are the history of qualitative research in the social sciences, character types and space in early statistical writings, a history of bedwetting and its regulation, a history of therapeutic work, Quakerism and the Tavistock Clinic’s development, alienation theory, the work of Hannah Arendt, and the con man origins of Erving Goffman’s (left) dramaturgical self. Full title, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Toward a social history of qualitative research,” by Gordana Jovanovic. The abstract reads,

There are plausible academic as well as social indicators that qualitative research has become an indispensable part of the methodological repertoire of the social sciences. Relying upon the tenets of the qualitative approach which require a priority of subject matter over method and a necessary socio-historical contextualization, I reconstruct some aspects of a social history that have shaped the quantitative—qualitative dichotomy and the quantitative imperative; these include modern individualism, monological rationality, manufacture operating on the grounds of common human labour, mechanics as the first science, quantification as a technology of distanced objectivity and a search for certainty realized at the expense of qualitative attributes. The so-called renaissance of the qualitative approach starting in 1960s, understood as a kind of a return of repressed qualities, is also socio-culturally contextualized. Both anthropogenetic and sociogenetic reconstructions as well as a microgenetic analysis of the research process demonstrate that choices of subject matter and of methodology are socially and culturally embedded and necessarily linked to broader interests and beliefs. Continue reading New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

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