Erving Goffman vs. Dorothy E. Smith

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The approach to sociology and elicits various models. Many sociologists over time have applied different methods of inquiry to understand how the society operates. Institutional ethnography is one of the renowned approaches to sociology that is used to elucidate social functions. This technique of sociology has attracted augmenting prominence over the world since it carries possible transformative agenda. Indeed, it is a propeller of social change in the dynamic society. Notably, the modern societies face myriad of challenges owing to the transformative agendas engendered by the growing nature of social institutions brought by the improving trends of technology (Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson, 2015).  The rebirth of sociology through technology is an important event that necessitates a different approach to under the modern social framework. Institutional ethnography delves into how the governing associations and their established procedures and treatise organize everyday undertakings and experiences.

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Sociologists Erving Goffman and Dorothy E. Smith are among the contemporary theorists who offer a concise approach to sociology and how the institutionalization of ethnography affects the imperatives of the social function. Notably, Erving Goffman focuses on the social universe at the micro stage and analyses the shared and figurative association between people (Burchell, 2012). Notably, he saw individuals as products of the society and thus, they must care and mind the way the community perceives them. Therefore, for Goffman, individuals cannot exhibit the true nature and true selves as they struggle to subscribe to what has been socially approved for them. On the other hand, Dorothy Smith focused on the actual undertakings of people, their experiences, and the ways that they comprehend and understand the social domain of which they live (Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson, 2015).  Indeed, Smith does not consider herself as an interactionist. However, she uses an approach paramount to one’s perception and determination as domineering in the way they live in the society. The two sociologists take a paradigm shift in sociology and present more liberated thoughts to approach modern society in manner amiable to the essence of modernity.


Both Erving Goffman and Dorothy Smith have a perception of women, and they take a standpoint. According to Rankin (2017), Smith concerns are how mainstream sociology implicitly or explicitly adopts a male-centered approach. She criticizes the whole idea of male chauvinism in sociology and instead conceptualizes how the society would appear from a female point of view.  She takes all forms of knowledge as worth but mourns the standpoint in which the community objectifies knowledge to conceal a male bias. Moreover, she finds sociology to operate within a more significant social system of both political and economic where findings and research from scholars are disseminated through the media to reach the broader social spectrum (Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson, 2015). For her, the manner in which sociological objectivity of knowledge conceptualizes the constructs of the government such as mental illnesses riots and crimes is ill. In contrast to official forms, Smith says that knowledge starts with everyday life reality such as activities, constraints, interactions, responsibilities, and choices (Doucet, 2013). Therefore, the denial of these opportunities to women by the preconceived conceptual, social apparatus explains their status in the society.

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Goffman takes a modern view of the status of women in the society. For him, social media is the point of departure for the female species as it empowers them to demonstrate the management of their impression and enables them to sell interaction and identities through the construction of numerous identities by redefining their self.   The platforms also empower females to perform and practice new femininities in relative safety. In the words of Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson (2015), women are given an opportunity to depart from their rejected brand of customary duties as partners and mothers on social networking sites and blogs. The conventional setting did not offer women a chance to change their social individualities and form new affiliations. Goffman acknowledges that the paradigm shift from the old to the new comes with a cost. However, he says that social media is the perfect mode of breaking the yoke of social determinism among women (Burchell, 2012). Indeed, Goffman brings to sight the inevitable need for liberating women from male dominance by the use of modern tools to allow them to regain and find pleasure with their identities.

Smith and Goffman seem to have a clear message that women face various problems in the modern society. For Smith, the sociological knowledge does not give room to view women from their perspective (Doucet, 2013). Therefore, it becomes problematic to provide them with space to articulate and air their views. On the other hand, Goffman conceptualizes the problem as lack of the appropriate means to elicit these grievances (Burchell, 2012). Both agree that female identity is essential in helping them rise above the social horizon. However, the shift to an understanding and perception of women from their point of view as opposed to what has been defined by male-biased male approach stands out from Smith perspective. Goffman, on the other hand, moves to a more liberal and free approach on how women can institutionalize their identity without necessarily creating a commotion with the prevailing social order (Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson, 2015). Indeed, through different approaches the two sociologists see women as a slaved species by male counterparts through socially defined procedures, they see hope where women can use the available avenues to reclaim their positions and identity.


Smith presents a significant question concerning life. According to DeVault (2103), Smith saw existence as a problem in that it is often a puzzle to be solved. Indeed, people may be sociological because they may organize their daily lives but the aspects of existence usually appear episodic and unconnected because it is structured by social relations not inherent in individuals experience. Therefore, the society involves the actual practices of its constituents understood as expert practitioners of their daily world. These comprise the organization of material categories of action at the right time and the continuing activities of real individuals (Burchell, 2102).  Thus, people grow a concrete method of expression as individual events. From the standpoint of women and gender, Smith says that there is an erasure of practices and knowledge among women (Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson, 2015). There is no nexus of knowing and understanding among women as the society takes the upper hand to show them the way without giving them the freedom to choose the course of their knowing. Consequently, as women endeavor to challenge these normative principles, there is a resultant reproduction of the subservience to the conceptual ideal of femininity.

Goffman took on knowledge and expression from an articulation perspective. He uses the analogy of online vs. face-to-face interaction and the effect it has on knowledge development. For him, the inline approach does not give room for mediating the expression and body language to the audience (Doucet, 2013). Therefore, he illustrates the effects that this method has on knowledge transmission and interpretation of ideas. Indeed, individuals are inclined to give more of their persona on online chats rather than offering information that is relevant to their audience as in face-to-face interactions (Burchell, 2012).  Notably, physical articulation of ideas and information allows people to read the expression of their instructors in a give and receive situation. Physical contact also enhances knowledge development and avoids unnecessary information as people only attend to what they need. Contrary, online expression creates a bulk of information that does not get to the intended audience making it difficult to disseminate information.  Moreover, it is possible for the audience to call for clarification during physical contacts as opposed to backstage communication where the receivers have no authority to question the source of information.

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Both Smith and Goffman have a clear presentation of knowledge and expression in the modern world and the implications this process has on the understanding and perception among the audience. In the words of Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson (2015), Smith sees knowledge and knowing as two different entities and the social determination of knowledge is inimical to knowing. Goffman, on the other hand, perceives the channel of articulation of ideas as a significant barricade to knowledge (Doucet, 2013). However, the two envisions situations of letting people have an opportunity to exercise their scrutiny and express their ideas freely as a promising end to enhanced knowledge. Smith tribulation of knowledge is that it does not give women an opportunity to learn on their own, therefore, regarding their insights about the environment as needless. Goffman mourns of the lack of proper consultative forum in the modern methods of communication making it hard to grow knowledge and express ideas (Burchell, 2012). Indeed, Smith and Goffman have the vision of creating knowledge and knowing as well as the expression of oneself subject to various tools of truth such as scrutiny and freedom of identity.

Social Stratification and Class

Smith presents an analysis of class and performance in the society. She uses the Marxian ideology to show how class and social stratification has occurred especially concerning women. According to DeVault (2013), the existing gap between women, knowledge, and relationships of the ruling is a subject of modern capitalism. There are differentiation and distinction of functions of society aimed to bring fortune to the mighty. The features of the social systems are based on the communicative and informational ground where people pass prejudices from generation to generation. Smith also distinctively says functions of communication and information relies on knowledge organized as social facts and truth (Doucet, 2013). Therefore, the human society is dependent on the systems f planning in the same textual and communicative mode. However. According to Rankin (2017), the discourse of the associations of those in power is part of these developments and aid in the reproduction of these forces in the society over time. Therefore, Smith says that the position of women in this system must be revised and they must be allowed to work and labor in reproducing the ruling relations.

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Goffman also presents a class relation in his treatise. He illustrates three intersecting clusters of possible errors that could interrupt the enactment of an unpretentious actor when there is mismanagement of impression (Rankin, 2017). In case this happens, the result is the performance being questioned by the audience. The kind of performance he talks can be illustrated by an economic perception and class formation approach to delineate how different people look at each in the social strata. Those in power may disguise their subjects as powerless and slaves who deserve nothing but the control of the master for them to the overall wellbeing. Mostly, the efforts of the subordinates are taken with criticism by the ruling (Burchell, 2012). However, the have-nots would not take long before they realize that they have the power to take control and that the society they live in bestows to them. This awakening of the subjects implies that the stage would be set for a reverse action and reconfiguration of social structure.  It is a rigorous process, but Goffman is confident that if the balance is not achieved between the rulers and the subjects, the social glue will shake endlessly.

Smith and Goffman have a conceptual view of stratification in the society. They exemplify social strata as results of gaps between people brought about by the social definitions and demarcation of individuals. For instance, Smith perceives the subjugation of women as a factor of knowledge that places women as second to their male counterparts (Rankin, 2017). Goffman conceptualizes performance as the essential element to social classes. The performance leads to the particular perception among the different classes in the society where the rulers have an ill understanding about their subjects (Adams, Carryer & Wilkinson, 2015). However, the strata can be abolished through the revisiting of the system to check the bias mechanism, and the have-nots must reconstruct their thinking and contemplate initiating a method reproducing the ruling relations. For Smith, women must review their position in the social system, and Goffman says that the oppressed must take a reverse action and assert their influence upon the discriminatory social system (Doucet, 2013). Therefore, both Smith and Goffman acknowledge that those in the positions of power have exploited their subjects and the subjects must reconfigure their thoughts, move forward to protests, and agitate for change in the community.

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The dynamics of social formation and transformation seems to be a critical subject in the modern society. There is a need to have a thorough understanding of the community from a diverse background rather than focusing on the pre-determined foundation. The society is a dynamic institution and sticking to earlier sociological functions may not offer the right way forward. Indeed, social science should focus more on the daily experiences of people such as women and other subordinate groups instead of using prior knowledge to define their roles and responsibilities. The earlier forms of social frameworks present an alien experience and situation of individuals requiring an attempt to the skills of people in determining their place in the society. A postmodern view of the social theory should not be totalizing but rather use multiple sources including individual experiences and identity.

The new thought envisions a bifurcated consciousness that daily experiences of individuals and their relationships with the ruling need reconstruction and practice in a fare platform. Specific tools like social media are domineering in enhancing the capacities of the subordinate groups. Social media is a platform for individuals to express the improved identities through brand management through the application of cultural scripts. Indeed, improving the base for articulating ideas and views among the weak and underprivileged in the society is essential in broadening the base for recognition and identity of their rights and freedom. The need for reconstruction is vital in bringing the gap between the rulers and the subjects in the society. The sociological narrative of the past does not hold anymore, and new dimension will serve for the best interest of the have-nots.

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  1. Adams, S., Carryer, J., & Wilkinson, J. (2015). Institutional ethnography: An emerging approach for health and nursing research. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 31(1), 18-27.
  2. Burchell, K.D. (2012) Negotiating Connection without Convention: The Management of Presence, Time, and Networked Technology in Everyday Life, London: Goldsmiths, University of London.
  3. DeVault, M. (2013). Institutional ethnography: A feminist sociology of institutional power. 42(3), 320-340.
  4. Doucet, A. (2013). A “choreography of becoming”: Fathering, embodied care, and new materialisms. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 50(3), 284-305.
  5. Rankin, J. (2017). Conducting Analysis in Institutional Ethnography: Guidance and Cautions. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16(1), 1609406917734472.
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