Relations in Public Essay - Critical Context

Erving Goffman

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Erving Goffman, a Canadian-born sociologist, educator, and author, is well-known for his analyses of human interaction of various kinds and for his theories that people strive to formulate their identities by means of routine social actions. His reputation was established by such books as The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956), Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (1961), Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings (1963), and Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior (1967). In many ways, Relations in Public reflects a further development and extension of the theories and discussions in his earlier works.

In previous works, Goffman had generally explored the field of social behavior in public places. Here, he repeats some of his theories but also closely analyzes a number of specific sequences of social behavior. As he details the rules and rituals inherent in particular behaviors, these analyses serve as further demonstration and additional applications of his earlier theories.

The same is true in his study of the social behavior of the mentally ill. His interest in that arena is not new, but the discussion in this book expands earlier concepts and is an instance of an application of his social theories in general. Thus, from Goffman’s perspective, a manic can be described as an individual who breaks rules of access and territoriality by committing willful improprieties in an attempt to create a certain pattern of relationships.

Goffman’s earlier works hypothesize that routines of daily life function according to ritual order. This book adds documentation for that theory. In the same way that ethologists have been establishing a science for animal behavior, the corpus of Goffman’s work has aimed in the direction of developing a new science of human behavior. This book is one more move on Goffman’s part to develop a science which focuses solely on social interaction in public places—that is, the science of “relations in public.”