Goffman, in this book as well in his previous books, follows what some consider to be unorthodox methods to gather his data and to reach his conclusions. His manner is that of careful and perceptive observation of various kinds of routines, behaviors, and interpersonal exchanges in a wide variety of settings in public life. He then generalizes about the similarities and parallels he sees in the patterns of behavior in widely different situations. There are, however, no experiments to test his hypotheses; there are no interviews with the people observed. He observes and then infers meaning from people’s actions.
This method leaves him open to accusations that he ignores an enormous body of allied and experimental material in the field and that he lacks a systematic, scientific approach to his studies. His methodology can be defended, however, on the grounds that, in Goffman’s view, “the realm of activity that is generated by face-to-face interaction and organized by norms of co-mingling . . . has never been sufficiently treated as a subject matter in its own right.” Examinations of interaction practices in daily routines had been used as frameworks or props in other studies, but only recently had the field of what he calls “public life” begun to receive attention on its own. There was, therefore, little if any scientific material on which he could draw apart from observation. That was particularly true of some of the specific behaviors, such as...
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