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Erving Goffman and the Evolutionary Ecological Missing Link

The Interaction Order

ISBN: 978-1-78769-546-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-545-0

Publication date: 5 February 2019


Erving Goffman has been variously interpreted as a symbolic interactionist, a structural functionalist, or an a-structural power-game theorist. However, when considering Goffman’s affiliation with the human ecology (HEC) of Robert Park and Everett Hughes, one is able to shed new light on Goffman’s relationship to the aforementioned sociological paradigms. This chapter will demonstrate that his Darwinist underpinnings and overall implicit evolutionary perspective allowed him to develop a dramaturgical theory that explicates how actors are able to understand, predict, anticipate, accommodate to, and influence others while pursuing one’s own or own group’s interests, through one or more of role “taking,” “playing,” and “making.” Furthermore, Goffman elaborates upon Park’s use of dramaturgy, following him in making more room for competition and inequalities in status and power, and offering new dimensions and categories for specifying when and why different adaptive strategies will be used, within different types and degrees of accommodation. Ecological dramaturgy is the term we give to these interdependent lines of social action within stratification contexts. Such structural concerns ultimately separate Goffman from the more subjective and less deductive elements of traditional symbolic interactionist thought. We argue that Goffman’s much neglected ecological and evolutionary-minded approach to role-taking and its inspired analysis of competitive interactive processes provide a missing link in better understanding his complicated intellectual heritage.




The authors would like to thank Mike Adorjan and Tony Puddephatt as well as the editors and reviewers at SSI for their helpful suggestions on previous drafts.


Kelly, B.W. and Archibald, W.P. (2019), "Erving Goffman and the Evolutionary Ecological Missing Link", The Interaction Order (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 50), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 141-168.



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