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When Erving Goffman Was a Boy: The Formative Years of a Sociological Giant

Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


This exploratory paper addresses the intersection of character and social structure by looking at the childhood and youth of Erving Goffman. Drawing from historical and contemporary documents, I reconstruct the social world of Canada between WWI and WWII and Goffman's place in it, identify Goffman's social position as an outsider, and document his early familiarity with dramaturgy. The argument is made that Goffman's formative years illuminate his interest in stigma, showing how stigmatizing circumstances can discredit claims to identity, and suggesting how impression management helps mitigate the discrepancy between a person's real life circumstances and prevailing cultural ideas.