Drawing on Durkheim’s theory of moral individualism, critically explore Goffman’s attempt ‘to show that a version of Durkheim’s social psychology can be effective in modern dress’ (Goffman 1965: 473).
Conventional wisdom depicts Durkheim as a positivist theorist of social structure, who sees the individual contained and restrained by ‘society’, and Goffman as a theorist of interaction, for whom society is the spontaneous coming together of singularly motivated individuals. This essay question requires you to scrutinise this conventional reading, and to explore Goffman’s claim that he was actually influenced by Durkheim himself. For Durkheim you will need to go back to the notion of ‘moral individualism’ that was studied last semester, since it is here that we find a conception of ‘the individual’ in Durkheim that is not in conflict with the demands of social order. The key text here is ‘Individualism and the Intellectuals’, but you will also find references to the ‘cult of the individual’ in The Division of Labour in Society (end of chapter 5 and in the Conclusion), in The Elementary Forms (implicit on pp.160-1, 172), in Moral Education, in ‘The Dualism of Human Nature’, and in ‘The Determination of Moral Facts’. You will also find a good summary of Durkheim’s position in the two texts by Mark Cladis (1992), and the article by Marske (1987), which are included on the module reading list. You may also find Bowring (2016) relevant (see the seminar folder on Durkheim from last semester). You also need to bear in mind the role of ritual and social interaction (and ‘collective effervescence’) in Durkheim’s theory of the collective conscience (Stone and Farberman (1967) is relevant here, as is The Elementary Forms, of course). For Goffman, you will need to concentrate on how the reciprocal honouring and protecting of ‘the self’ is an organising goal of social interaction, and then think about how Goffman’s claim that the self is ‘allotted a kind of sacredness’ (1965: 473) converges with Durkheim’s theory of moral individualism. The key text here is the ‘Deference and Demeanour’ article, but you will find illustrations of Goffman’s argument in all his writings. You should find helpful most of the secondary texts on the reading list for the Goffman lecture, including Birrell (1981) and Bellah (2005). If you have space, you may also want to highlight the fact that the theme of moral respect in Goffman is also accompanied by a more cynical picture of social actors whose overriding concern is their own self – a picture which is closer to the utilitarian egoism that Durkheim believed needed to be replaced by moral individualism.