Author: Stanley Raffel
Title: If Goffman Had Read Levinas
This paper is concerned with developing a viable conception of the self. The extremely influential conception offered by Goffman, particularly in his early work, has long been criticized for certain fundamental weaknesses such as the idea that the self is 'inside' and a pervasive cynicism. This paper tries to locate the philosophical roots of this problematic version of the self in a work that was both highly popular at the time and was (I argue) the source of many of Goffman's deepest assumptions, Sartre's Being and Nothingness. This examination is of more than historical interest because there now exists a point by point rebuttal of Sartre's version of the self, Emmanuel Levinas' Totality and Infinity. It is suggested that, as some of the problems in Goffman's theory stem from assumptions he shared with Sartre, one way of overcoming these problems could be to attempt to work out what alternative conceptions of a social self will follow from the totally contrasting assumptions of Levinas.