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An odd realization… December 9, 2009

Posted by Sarah in reflections.
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I’m reading Alan F. Westin’s Privacy and Freedom right now.  It’s more politically-minded than what I really need, but the first chapter is an examination of notions of public and private in “primitive” cultures and the end will discuss the impacts of new technologies on privacy.  So it’s certainly not a total waste of time.

Early in the book, while discussing the social factors influencing the individual’s perceptions of privacy, he notes that

“…individuals have conflicting roles to play in any society; to play these different roles with different persons, the individual must present a different ‘self’ at various times” (13).

He’s describing research from Robert F. Murphy, in a 1964 article entitled “Social Distance and the Veil” (American Anthropologist v. 64, pp. 1257-74).

When I first read that passage, I made a note to myself:

Has he never heard of Goffman?  Seriously?

But today, my brain actually engaged and I realized, no.  Maybe he hadn’t.  Because Presentation of Self in Everyday Life was only published in the mid-1950s (the earliest date I find for it in the Library of Congress catalog is 1956; the earliest American publication is 1959).

I think it’s telling that I really can’t imagine a world of social analysis in which Goffman doesn’t exist.



1. David Brake - December 17, 2009

Well I seem to recall Goffman became a sociological rock star quite early on, so actually this does tend to suggest that anthropologists might have been stuck in their own scholarly groove (quite a few scholars looked down on G. for various reasons).

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