Theory and Society

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 605–622 | Cite as

Goffman's legacy to political sociology

  • William A. Gamson


I don't claim that Goffman addressed the questions that animate political sociologists. He was not interested in analyzing interaction to learn how it contributed to mobilization for collective action aimed at social change. He was not interested in changing political consciousness or in how the mass media and other social institutions make such change so difficult. But for those who are interested in such questions, he is worth heeding. His is an unanticipated bequest — from the cranky uncle who we always thought had no great love or admiration for our line of work.

I have tried to show how Goffman's arguments about the nature of the interaction order and frame analysis can be applied to increase our understanding of micromobilization and political consciousness. The help here is concrete and empirical, aiding us in interpreting historical cases and guiding us in systematic research.

But perhaps Goffman's most enduring legacy is in the moral stance that pervades his observations about social institutions. It goes beyond ideology, to the spirit of our intellectual pursuits. It is eloquently captured in words written after Goffman's death by the poet, Joseph Brodsky

The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity. That is, something that can't be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned impostor couldn't be happy with .... Evil is a sucker for solidity. It always goes for big numbers, for confident granite, for ideological purity, for drilled armies and balanced sheets.1

For Goffman, it was a lesson he knew and lived.

  1. 1.

    Joseph Brodsky, “A Commencement Address,” New York Review of Books, 16 August 1984, 7.


Systematic Research Social Change Collective Action Mass Medium Historical Case 
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Copyright information

© Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • William A. Gamson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyBoston CollegeBostonUSA

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