Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Erving Goffman’s book deals with the connections between social relationships and public life, that is, with face-to-face interaction in activity involving mingling in the public domain. The book contains a preface, an author’s note, six main chapters, an appendix (which functions as chapter 7), and an index. There is, despite the extensive use of references in the text, no bibliography. The preface, which is subdivided into three small sections, discusses the focus of the book, its methodology, and its drawbacks. Goffman’s chief concern “is with the ground rules and the associated orderings of behavior that pertain to public life—to persons co-mingling and to places and social occasions where this face-to-face contact occurs.” His primary methodology—unsystematic, naturalistic observation—leads to the problem of statements about groups without sufficient data, particularly since the identity and the boundaries of the groupings studied are not clearly known.

The author’s note describes the relationship of the chapters to one another. The six chapters that make up the bulk of the book were written to be published together and have as a common denominator the public domain as the setting for studies of different types of face-to-face interaction. The chapters are sequential in the sense that the continuing discussion builds on terms that have been defined previously. Each chapter, however, can be read separately since, according to Goffman, “I snipe at a target from six different positions unevenly spaced.” The seventh chapter, although a previously published paper, is included because it repeats, and is an application of, the major points in the book.

Chapter 1, “The Individual as a Unit,” analyzes the individual from two perspectives: as a vehicular unit and as a participation unit. Goffman points out that the individual as a vehicular unit—that is, a pedestrian—operates on informal understandings of the various ground rules that provide public order on sidewalks and other public thoroughfares. Second, Goffman distinguishes the individual who appears in public as a single (alone) from the individual who appears in a “with” (in the social company of one or more persons). He analyzes the different...

(The entire section is 923 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Argyle, Michael. “Rules and Rituals of Everday Life,” in Science. CLXXVI (May 12, 1972), pp. 627-628.

Berman, Marshall. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXVII (February 27, 1972), p. 1.

Black, Kurt W. Review in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. CDI (May, 1972), p. 206.

Manning, Peter K. “Goffman’s Framing Order: Style as Structure,” in The View from Goffman, 1980. Edited by Jason Ditton.

Storr, Anthony. Review in The Washington Post Book World. V (November 28, 1971), p. 14.