School of Social and Political Science

Erving Goffman Memorial Lectures



A black-and-white photograph of Erving Goffman


To mark the 50th Anniversary of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (published by the Social Science Research Centre, University of Edinburgh in 1956) we established an annual Erving Goffman Memorial Lecture.

Goffman's Presentation, written whilst he was a visiting Canadian scholar at the University of Edinburgh, is one of the most influential sociological texts of the twentieth century.

Each year, Sociology invites a scholar of high international reputation to give the Erving Goffman Memorial Lecture. This aim of this lecture is to honour and continue the intellectual legacy of Erving Goffman by deepening our understanding of human behaviour and interactions. 


2023 Erving Goffman Memorial Lecture

Title: The 'Goffmanesque' - Why Study Erving Goffman? 

Speaker: Michael Hviid Jacobsen, Professor of Sociology, Aalborg University (Denmark)

Date and time: 18 May 2023, 4.30pm, Project Room, 50 George Square


Watch recordings of previous Erving Goffman Lectures


Crisis: The Continuing Cascade

Professor Sylvia Walby (Lancaster University)
10 October 2018

Crisis: What crisis?  The crisis can be seen to cascade from finance to the economy to the fiscal to exacerbation of intersecting inequalities to political turbulence and to violence.  It emerges in Brexit and the potential restructuring of the EU.  The crisis is gendered; but in what way?  What difference does the ‘framing’ of the crisis make to this process?  Is ‘the crisis’ ‘real’ or ‘socially constructed’?  How is the concept of crisis, which challenges notions of social change as gradual and of causes as proportionate to their effects, to be addressed in social theory?  The talk addressed the theory of crisis in the context of current changes in the UK and EU.

The Societalization of Social Problem

Jeffrey Alexander (Yale University); Lillian Chavenson Saden (Yale University)
17 October 2017

"In this lecture, I develop a theory of “societalization” to explain social reaction to three recent, globally significant upheavals – the financial crisis, church pedophilia, and media phone-hacking. While each of these strains was endemic for years and even decades, they had failed to generate broad crises: Reactions to the problems were confined inside institutional boundaries and handled by intra-institutional elites according to the cultural logics of their particular spheres. The boundaries between spheres can be breached and the “steady state” disrupted only if there is code switching. Rather than institutional logics, strains are interpreted according to the cultural logics of the civil sphere. When intra-institutional strains become interpreted as challenges to civil discourse and interests, there is societalization.  Inter-sphere boundaries become tense and there is widespread anguish about social justice and the future of democratic society. In such conditions, the civil sphere becomes intrusive; projecting symbolic pollution and promoting legal intervention, the newly energized civil sphere triggers state-sponsored institutional repairs that aim for civil purification. While initially contrite, institutional elites soon engage in backlash efforts to resist reform. A war of the spheres ensues and, eventually, there is movement back to steady state. No matter the extent of civil repair, societalization cannot prevent the future eruption of social strains. In a differentiated and plural society, tensions between spheres remains, and societalization endemic." 


Chicago 1950 - Another Look
Howard Becker (author of Outsiders, Art Worlds and other sociological works)
27 November 2014

The 2014 Erving Goffman Memorial Lecture, was delivered by Professor Howard Becker, a stellar figure in sociology. The title of his lecture is ‘Chicago, 1950, Another Look’, about his and Goffman’s time at the Chicago Sociology.


Lecture Archives


The Sociology of Now: Cultural explanations of Brexit, Trump, and (not) Marikana
David Inglis (University of Helsinki); Jeffrey Alexander (Yale University); Liz Stanley (University of Edinburgh)
16 October 2017

A conversation with Jeffrey Alexander (Yale University), David Inglis (University of Helsinki), and Liz Stanley (University of Edinburgh). 
We live in interesting times. In the UK, the causes and consequences of Brexit continue to be fiercely debated. In the USA, the erratic presidency of Donald Trump has rekindled the culture and class wars. In South Africa, the government plans to compile and sell a database collecting information on citizens structured by racial categorisation. How should we interpret these events? Should we be focussing on events or processes? What can cultural sociology offer to meet the challenge of explaining and engaging with the present? This event gathered three prominent cultural sociologists to tackle these questions.

Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel
Professor Michele Lamont (Harvard University)
13 March, 2017 

"This 2016 book illuminates what kinds of stigmatizing or discriminatory incidents individuals encounter in each country, how they respond to these occurrences, and what they view as the best strategy—whether individually, collectively, through confrontation, or through self-improvement—for dealing with such events. This deeply collaborative and integrated comparative study draws on more than four hundred in-depth interviews with middle- and working-class men and women residing in and around multiethnic cities—New York City, Rio de Janeiro, and Tel Aviv—to compare the discriminatory experiences of African-Americans, black Brazilians, and Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as Israeli Ethiopian Jews and Mizrahi (Sephardic) Jews. Our detailed analysis reveals significant differences in narratives about behavior. We account for these patterns by the extent to which each group is actually a group, the socio-historical context of intergroup conflict, and the national ideologies, neo-liberal repertoires, and other narratives that group members rely on. We also consider similarities and differences between the middle class and the working class, as well as between men and women, and older and younger interviewees, to capture the extent to which racial identity overshadows the daily experiences of stigmatized groups across contexts. Our hope is that our book will be viewed as making a contribution to the study of everyday racism and stigma management, the quest for recognition, and the comparative study of inequality and processes of cultural change."


Go And Uncover Something
Professor Paul Atkinson (Cardiff University)
5 May 2016

"I follow Erving Goffman’s injunction to ‘Go and uncover something!'. In doing so I reflect on the imperatives and commitments of fieldwork, illustrating the theme with examples derived from two field sites – operatic master-classes and a glassblowing studio. To Goffman’s analysis of the interaction order I add Mauss’s concern with technique. Together they help to shape attention to the ethnography of embodied action and ethnography as embodied craft work itself."


The Edinburgh School of Sociology
John Scott (University of Plymouth)
14 November 2013

Two people -Patrick Geddes and Victor Branford- attempted in 1902 to create an 'Edinburgh School of Sociology', based in the University of Edinburgh. They hoped this would spearhead the establishment of sociology as a discipline across the British University system. Although their project failed, they did set out a distinctive and powerful approach to sociology that they saw as comprising, in intellectual terms, an 'Edinburgh School'. Their intellectual School was very different from that of Hobhouse, which became the British mainstream and dominated the subject for the best part of sixty years. They had a powerful perspective on environmental concerns and issues of modernity and globalisation. This lecture summarised some aspects of their approach and highlight its important, and forgotten, elements. The conclusion speculated about how things might have been different for British sociology if the original project of establishing an Edinburgh School of Sociology had been successful.

The Importance of Being Civil : Erving Goffman Memorial Lecture
John Hall (McGill University)
18 March 2013

Members of the Scottish Enlightenment welcomed the advent of civility. This lecture called for use of the term in contemporary circumstances, and did so with reference to genealogy and sociology, whilst equally praising it as a prescriptive ideal-whose character is best understood in the light of the work of Erving Goffman.


Doing National Identity: Presentations in Everyday Life
Professor Dave McCrone (University of Edinburgh); Professor Frank Bechhofer (University of Edinburgh)
4 May 2012


Wrapping Worlds
Professor Nigel Thrift (Vice Chancellor, University of Warwick)
6 May 2011


The Everyday Life of the Self: A Reworking of Early Goffman
Stanley Raffel (University of Edinburgh)
30 April 2010


Neglected Time Transaction
Karin Knorr Cetina
15 November 2008

The 2008 lecture was given by Karin Knorr Cetina of the University of Chicago on Neglected Time Transaction: Microsociology for a Global World.

Karin Knorr Cetina was the winner of the 2006 Theory Prize and past winner of the Robert King Merton Prize of the American Sociological Association. She is the author of Epistemic Cultures (Harvard UP, 1999), among other works.


The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
Greg Smith
15 December 2006

The 2006 lecture was given by Greg Smith. Amongst Greg's publications are:

Goffman and Social Organization: Studies in a Sociological Legacy, (editor), Routledge, 1999;
Erving Goffman, 4 vols, (editor, with GA Fine), Sage, 2000;
'Ethnomethodological readings of Goffman', in Javier Trevino (ed) Goffman Legacy, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003; and
Erving Goffman (Key Sociologists), Routledge, 2006.

Fifty years ago the University of Edinburgh published the first book by a young Canadian sociologist who had been affiliated to its social anthropology department. The 1956 publication of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life introduced Erving Goffman's remarkable sociological talents to a wider professional and public audience. The novel identification in the interaction order envisaged face-to-face talk and action as a discrete domain of sociological enquiry. But what also caught the eye was Goffman's highly distinctive analytic attitude and signature style.