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Theoretical Ideas in Sociology: METAPHORS



The perfection of diction is for it to be at once clear and not mean.  The clearest indeed is that made up of the ordinary words for things, but it is mean…On the other hand the diction becomes distinguished and non-prolix by the use of unfamiliar terms, i.e. strange words, metaphors, lengthened forms, and everything that deviates from the ordinary modes of speech.  But a whole statement in such terms will be either a riddle or a barbarism, a riddle, if made up of metaphors, a barbarism, if made up of strange words…A certain admixture, accordingly, of unfamiliar terms is necessary.  These, the strange word, the metaphor, the ornamental equivalent, will save language from seeming mean and prosaic, while ordinary words in it will secure the requisite clearness.  (Aristotle)


All of us get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them. (George Eliot)


 1.      Non-conceptual sources of conceptuality:

a.      Political commitments

b.      Biography of theorist

c.       Intellectual/political context

d.      Use of metaphors



Possible e.g. of 1.a:


classification - conservative

dialectics – radical

ideal type - liberal


(probably too simple – this is a classification after all!)


We will look at 1d.

 2.      Puzzle of Metaphor


Thomas Hobbes:


…the light of human minds is perspicuous words, but by exact definitions first snuffed, and purged from ambiguity; reason is the pace; increase of science, the way; and the benefit of mankind, the end.  And, on the contrary, metaphors, and senseless and ambiguous words, are like ignes fatui; and reasoning upon them is wandering amongst innumerable absurdities; and their end, contention and sedition, or contempt.[1]


Hobbes’ belief in scientific rigour and linguistic precision expressed through metaphor: reasoning is a journey with a clear goal, and not mere ‘wandering’.  It was Hobbes, too, who coined some of the most enduring metaphors in the history of political thought: Leviathan is a sea monster, the commonwealth is described variously as a mortal god (ch.12), artificial man and as the body politic (ch.22); potentially seditious sects and other intermediate powers are ‘like worms in the entrailes of a natural man’; politics has been described through metaphors drawn from the family (the ruler as father, the mother country, the founding fathers), exchanges (contract theory), war, crafts (tending sheep, piloting a ship, engineering – Weber’s ‘politics is the slow boring of hard boards’), machinery, the activities of animals (the wolf in Hobbes, the fox and the lion in Machiavelli), the motions of bodies (as when we refer to ‘revolutions’ or to the ‘forces’ at work in political life) and biblical mythology (Leviathan).   The sociological tradition too is replete with metaphors:  Weber gave us the ‘iron cage’ and ‘revolution is not a taxi that can be stopped at will’, Marx the idea that a new society is contained in the ‘womb’ of the old, and that ‘all that is solid melts into air’; Robert Merton made much of the phrase ‘On the shoulders of giants’; Ernest Gellner varies Weber’s imagery, giving us ‘the rubber cage’ and uses of the image of ‘the big ditch’ to convey the difference between the pre-modern and the modern world; Erving Goffman writes that ‘in truth, in talk it seems routine that, while firmly standing on two feet, we jump up and down on another.’  And then there are sociology’s master metaphors, society as an organism, as a cybernetic system, as a game, as a drama, as a text.

            So: ‘all language is metaphorical’ – BUT this is a boring conclusion. Instead, make a distinction between metaphors that advance and those that hamper inquiry, metaphors that play an essential role in a theorist’s thinking and metaphor that are marginal to it.  Metaphor/non-metaphor does not equate with non-science/science: it can be precisely through reliance on an overarching metaphor that a sociologist seeks to establish his scientific credentials.

 3.      Definition of metaphor


a metaphor is a way of talking that works well in one field of inquiry and that is employed in an attempt to make sense of something in another field of inquiry; we resort to metaphor when we seek to make sense of something which is not comprehended by means of something which is comprehended better, but comprehended somewhere else.[2] 


Examples: ‘organism’ and ‘system’: to see society as an organism is to draw upon the language of human biology; to see society as a system is to draw upon the language of cybernetics and information science; ‘drama’ or ‘game’: language pertinent to the description of one particular sector of social life is used to comprehend the whole of it.  Erving Goffman: ‘the world is, in truth, a wedding.’[3]  This substitution of the part for the whole is technically known as ‘synecdoche’, but here we will include it under general rubric of metaphor.

Five Aspects of Metaphor


(i) metaphor/simile. simile takes the form ‘A is like B’, metaphor takes the form ‘A is B’; ‘modernity is like an iron cage’ or ‘modernity is an iron cage’.  In the former case, two things which are different from one another are compared.  In the latter, two things which are different from one another are identified with one another.  Some say metaphor is simply ‘more powerful: the direct attribution causes surprise, whereas simile dissipates this surprise.’ [4]  But metaphorical statement ‘A is B’ is an exercise in predication rather than identification: B is a characteristic or quality which is held to be a characteristic or quality of A, not something that A ‘really is’.  The statement ‘modernity is an iron cage’ has the same status as ‘Jack is a dull boy’ or ‘the sky is blue’, the point being that Jack could equally be many other things as well as dull; ‘the iron cage’ is one possible characteristic of modernity among others.  So Nelson Goodman: ‘Metaphor is an affair between a predicate with a past and an object that yields while protesting.’

(ii) substitution theory (metaphor is merely decorative – it has a literal equivalent) and the interaction theory (two thoughts of different things placed together, with the reader being invited to connect them. So ‘man is a wolf to man’ (Hobbes) invites us to consider ‘associated commonplaces’ about wolves:  effectiveness of a metaphor can depend upon the writer’s capacity to vary the implications of the literal expression.  A zoologist: ‘man is a wolf’ might imply implied something more attractive than that man was a rapacious, aggressive killer) Sociology: game, cybernetic system, drama metaphors. What about them?  Maybe  some metaphors are of one type and others are of the other type. Think of Wright Mills and Parsons: could it be that Mills’ translation fails as a translation because it dissolves the insight which was only made possible by the metaphor of ‘society is a system’? But maybe Parsons’ system is a substitutive metaphor masquerading as an interactive one, and that it can be translated without loss of content into a language and a set of associated commonplaces with which we are already familiar.   

(iii) metaphor at the level of words/sentences and at the level of ‘discourse’.   Crucial. Metaphor at the level of words or sentences serves the purpose of dramatisation; while metaphor at the level of discourse serves the purpose of systematisation. E.g. of level of words: the ‘iron cage’ – no systematic relationship with Weber’s vision of sociology as a whole; just a powerful image at the end of a sustained historical inquiry.  It works at the level of words, not at the level of discourse; e.g. of metaphor at level of discourse:  Talcott Parsons or Niklas Luhmann or Jon Elster: society is a cybernetic system (Parsons, Luhmann) or a game/series of games played between utility-maximising actors (Elster); Goffman - society as a drama. 

A theorist’s work may be peppered with metaphorical statements (level of words/sentences) while his work as a whole (level of discourse) is not defined by any particular vision; conversely, it may be that a theorist’s entire project is describable as the working out or elaboration of a single metaphor (level of discourse) while his writing itself largely avoids the use of metaphor at the level of words/sentences.   Sometimes the metaphorical statement may be both a dramatic aside and an indication of the nature of the writer’s thought as a whole: e.g. Marx - beginnings of a new society are contained within the ‘womb’ of the old, not entirely misleading statement of his overall philosophy of history;

(iv) words and images: we speak readily of Durkheim’s or Marx’s ‘image of society’,[6] as though we were being invited to visualise society. Yet this is not always quite the right way of putting it, because metaphor, more often than not replaces one way of talking with another way of talking rather than replacing words with images;

(v) metaphors and models: a metaphor may be worked up into something more organised and systematic: models, or well-defined and often elaborate batteries of categories, implied relationships between phenomena, and implications. Goffman’s ‘drama’ metaphor – more than just an image.  But what is a model?  A) scale model; b) analogue model - original is represented in a new medium, and where the aim is to represent its structures rather than its sensible features. An example - hydraulic model of an economic system; c) purely theoretical model: e.g. Maxwell’s ‘representation of an electrical field in terms of the properties of an imaginary incompressible fluid’. Paul Ricoeur: 


The important thing is not that one has something to view mentally, but that one can operate on an object that on the one hand is better known and in this sense more familiar, and on the other hand is full of implications and in this sense rich at the level of hypotheses.[7]


There is a sense in which the sociologist is freer than the physicist to exercise his imagination; but this very freedom of the sociologist is also a constraint: it is easier to say that society is a game or a drama or a system than it is to say that the universe is shaped like a disc (role of proof in physics), it is also easier to deny that it is (‘ordinary people’ can judge sociology’s metaphors more easily than they can judge physicist’s. 


 Lesson of all this: Geertz - a particular model, which its author believes helps us to make sense of all we need to make sense of, is almost certainly better at making sense of some facets of social experience than of others.  Should we then add different metaphors together to get a more complete picture of society?  But Richard Harvey Brown says: ‘it is unclear how the root metaphors of the organism or machine could be conjoined with consistency to those of drama or game.  Efforts to integrate paradigms have remained a congeries of fragile patchworks.’[8]



            (vi) living and dead metaphors, metaphors that seem to do some work for us by enabling us to see it or talk about it in new ways, and those that obstruct our view or involve us in needless circumlocution. 





Hypertrophy of Metaphor at the Level of Discourse


 (a) Parsons. Politics and Social Structure:


A society is a type of social system, in any universe of social systems which attains the highest level of self-sufficiency as a system in relation to its environments…This definition refers to an abstracted system, of which the other, similarly abstracted subsystems of action are the primary environments. This view contrasts sharply with our common sense notion of society as being composed of concrete human individuals…We cannot argue the merits of these two views of societies here.  But the reader must be clear about the usage in this book.[9]

 Our question is whether this model can enable us to say something interesting or whether it blinds or restricts us (Parsons was being wholly disingenuous when he referred to ‘discernible regularities of relationship’, as though it were a simple matter of ‘looking’ or a more complex matter of engaging in experimentation or statistical investigation, neither of which he in fact attempted)

Two points about the way in which Parsons manipulates both conceptual and metaphorical hierarchies: i) last term: four pattern variable choices were of equal weight when discussed abstractly as a list, but resolved themselves into a hierarchy in the analysis of types of social structure, so that the universalism-particularism and ascription-achievement variables were the ones we needed in order to distinguish between – to classify – different societies; affectivity-affective neutrality and specificity-diffuseness more or lessy drop out of the picture; same with system: Parsons thinks of the functions hierarchically only this time the AGIL diagram masks it -  his original discussion of the four functions presents them as a list, with latency at the bottom and adaptation at the top, but with an arrow running up the side of the list to indicate that the priority runs from bottom to top; BUT ii) conceptual hierarchy that gives priority to values over energy has been alluded to quite often in the secondary literature on Parsons; but less attention has been given to the fact that there is another type of hierarchy at work, one that appears at first to be the reverse of the one we have just discussed.  Parsons says that power is an output which serves as an input to the other subsystems.  But it is also something internal to the political system, just as money is internal to the economy. BUT Parsons does not theorise power and money separately: money can be accumulated, can be banked, can circulate as a resource independently of those who possess it; it is a property of the system, not of individuals or groups, it is exercised but not possessed he only theorises power once he knows what money is. But he only knows this because he knows what money is ‘first’. That is why he can talk about power as if it were money.


I assert with some confidence that…the power equivalent of the creation of credit by banks can and does occur, and that there are in political systems phenomena strictly parallel to…inflation and deflation in the economic sense.  The scientific consequences…are surely not trivial.’[10]


BUT THERE’S MORE! In order to talk about money as a symbolic medium of exchange he has to make a further metaphorical move!  For money is being seen here as a means of communication, and the means of communication we understand better than money, in fact best of all is…language:


Money not only resembles a language, but it is a very specialised language through which intentions and conditional consequences of action are communicated.[11]


So language is a metaphor for money, which is in turn a metaphor for power.


Figurational Sociology.  Norbert Elias.  I call Elias a theorist here despite the fact that his reputation rests on his concrete empirical exercises in historical sociology - original concluding reflections to The Civilising Process, theoretical claims expressed pretty directly, no metaphor; BUT in the late sixties, use of metaphors and models for ‘interdependence’, ‘power differentials’, and ‘social structure’


…the rationalisation of conduct is an expression of the foreign policy of the super-ego formation whose domestic policy is expressed in an advance of the shame threshold.[12]


Monopolies of physical violence and of the economic means of consumption and production, whether coordinated or not, are inseparably connected…Both together form the lock in the chain by which men are mutually bound. [13]


Elias rejects one particular metaphor, that of ‘the inner man’, homo clausus, seen as separated divided from ‘society’ by an ‘invisible wall’.


One is satisfied with the spatial metaphor of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, but one makes no serious attempt to locate the ‘inner’ in space’…this preconceived image of homo clausus commands the stage not only in society at large but also in the human sciences. Its derivatives include not only the traditional homo philosophicus, the image of man of classical epistemology, but also homo oeconomicus, homo psychologicus, homo historicus, and not least homo sociologicus in his present-day version.  The images of the individual of Descartes, of Max Weber, and of Parsons and many other sociologists are of the same provenance.[14] 


This is a ‘blind alley’, ‘conceptual trap’ which needs to be ‘prized open’. Elias’ alternative: ‘figuration’, not immediately obvious that ‘figuration’ means anything more than ‘system’, so Elias thinks that another metaphor will help.


What is meant by the concept of the figuration can be conveniently explained by reference to social dances…The image of the mobile figurations of interdependent people on a dance floor perhaps makes it easier to imagine states, cities, families, and also capitalist, communist and feudal systems as figurations…One can certainly speak of a dance in general, but no one will imagine a dance as a structure outside the individual or as a mere abstraction.  The same dance figurations can certainly be danced by different people; but without a plurality of reciprocally oriented and dependent individuals, there is no dance…It would be absurd to say that dances are mental constructions abstracted from observations of individuals considered separately.  The same applies to all other figurations.  Just as the small dance figurations change – becoming now slower, now quicker – so, too, gradually or more suddenly, do large figurations we call societies.[15]


BUT can we dance in chains? Does Elias believe that we could replace ‘monarchy’, ‘democracy’ and ‘aristocracy’ or traditional, charismatic and legal-rational authority, with  ‘mazurka’, ‘tango’ and ‘the gay gordons’? 

Second objection to Parsons: sociology was static not only because of its commitment to homo clausus but because it had no adequate account of the dynamics of social conflict. This needs another metaphor - competitive games:


the image of people playing a game as a metaphor for people forming societies together…One only needs to compare the imaginative possibilities of such static concepts as the individual and society or ego and system with the imaginative possibilities opened up by the metaphoric use of various images of games and players; the comparison will help us to understand that these models have served to unleash our powers of imagination.[16] 

 Hypertrophy of Metaphor at the Level of Words: Bauman

If the systems theorist or the follower of game models has his blinkers on too tight, or concentrates his vision so tightly that, like the magnifying glass on a sunny day, it burns a hole in the paper, our next theorist has no such encumbrances.  Lacking blinkers, and seemingly curious about everything, he looks about him in all directions.  Nothing escapes his gaze.  But can he see the wood for the trees?   

Bauman: no overarching metaphor at the level of discourse, no vision of sociology as a distinct intellectual exercise, no clearly defined apparatus for studying society.  Instead, diagnostic and imaginative sympathy; 4 egs of metaphor in Bauman:

i)                    most widely quoted example of metaphor at level of words is his account of the ‘gardening state’, the health of the state, activity of weeding, planting healthy plants and so on; the image of gardening provides a pretty fair description of the relationship between enlightenment ideas and the administrative practices of modern states since the eighteenth century; we can understand much of what made the holocaust possible.

ii)                   ‘liquid modernity’. social institutions in modern Western societies  have lost some of their capacity to influence individual conduct in a manner that is stable over time.

iii)                  Caravan sites: ‘The kind of ‘hospitality to critique’ characteristic of modern society in its present form may be likened to the pattern of a caravan site.  The place is open to everyone with his or her own caravan and enough money to pay the rent. Guests come and go; none of them takes much interest in how the site is run, providing the customers have been allocated plots big enough to park the caravans, the electric sockets and water taps are in good order and the owners of the caravans parked nearby do not make too much noise and keep down the sound from their portable TVs and hi-fi speakers after dark.  Drivers bring to the site their own homes attached to their cars…[17]  And so on for another half a page. 

iv)                 Here he is again, writing about types of ‘explosive’, short-lived and transitory community which, he believes, are characteristic of today’s world: ‘The name ‘cloakroom community’ grasps well some of their characteristic traits. Visitors to a spectacle dress for the occasion, abiding by a sartorial code distinct from those codes they follow daily – the act which simultaneously sets apart the visit as a ‘special occasion’ and makes the visitors look, for the duration of the event, much more uniform than they do in the life outside the theatre building.  It is the evening performance which brought them all here – different as their interests and pastimes during the day could have been.  Before entering the auditorium they all leave the coats or anoraks they wore in the streets in the playhouse cloakroom (by counting the number of hooks and hangers used, one can judge how full is the house and how assured is the immediate future of the production).  During the performance all eyes are on the stage; so is everybody’s attention…After the last fall of the curtain, however, the spectators collect their belongings from the cloakroom and when putting their street clothes on once more return to their ordinary mundane and different roles…[18]


Bauman may well be on to something.  But in order for the metaphors with which he seeks to depict this state of affairs to be effective, there needs to be a sense that the details of his master image bear some resemblance to the details of his argument.  In the case of the caravan site, ‘money to the pay the rent’, ‘allocated plots’, ‘electric sockets and water taps’, neighbours’ ‘hi-fi- speakers’, and ‘after dark’; and in the case of the cloakroom, ‘evening performance’, ‘coats and anoraks (!)’, and ‘hooks and hangers’ have to have a metaphorical function of their own, have to be such that they can do some work for us in our efforts to understand society better than we could without resort to them.   Yet it should not take you long to see that the apparent detail cannot hide a certain barrenness in this image, that, rather than provide us with a set of tools with which we can make sense of society, Bauman has sought to give us a set of immediate, striking images of certain aspects of society. They are quite literal-minded; there are metaphors in Bauman, but that they do not generate new descriptions.  There is description aplenty, but it is not theoretical description, or put better, it is description which owes nothing to a distinctive approach to theorising, but everything to the author’s intuitive sense of things.   

Living Metaphor at the level of words: Goffman

Nobody was more aware than Goffman of the limits of the categories and metaphors he used: ‘I snipe at a target from six different positions; there is no pretence at laying down a barrage.  The result is chapters, but wayward ones’;[19] in Forms of Talk he will ‘lumber in where the self-respecting decline to tread.  A question of pinning with our ten thumbs what ought to be secured with a needle’;[20] at the end of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, his attempt to see social life as drama, he cautions the reader against any overestimation of the status of what was ‘a rhetoric and a manoeuvre’ on his part, going so far as to say that ‘here the language and mask of the stage will be dropped.  Scaffolds, after all, are to build things with, and should be erected with an eye to taking them down.[21]

i)                              use of metaphor at the level of words is contained in the following quotation, in which Goffman uses an arresting image in order to summarise an argument or observation and bring a passage to a conclusion: ‘In middle-class society, care in the use of eyes can be readily found in connection with nakedness.  In nudist camps, for example, apparently considerable effort is taken to avoid appearing to be looking at the private parts of others.  Topless waitresses sometimes obtain the same courtesy from their patrons, especially when engaging them in close serving.  A rule in our society: when bodies are naked, glances are clothed.[22]   

ii)                            At other times, he goes further, ending a paragraph with a metaphor but in such a way that, although the passage may have come to a conclusion, discussion of its import is expected to continue. ‘The role perspective has definite implications of a social-psychological kind.  In entering the position, the incumbent finds that he must take on the whole array of action encompassed by the corresponding role, so role implies a social determinism and a doctrine about socialisation.  We do not take on items of conduct one at a time but rather a whole harness load of them and may anticipatorily learn to be a horse even while being pulled like a wagon’.[23]  Here, the ‘harness load’ metaphor enables Goffman to summarise an argument about the possibly burdensome nature of role obligations, much in the way that ‘glances are clothed’ completes the previous example; but here he goes further, extending the metaphor in order to convey a sense of the practical variation in the relationship between freedom and constraint, individual uniqueness and social obligation, personal initiative and unavoidable restriction.  He does so in a way that leaves this relationship open; we may learn to be a horse, but we might not, remaining a wagon; even if we do ‘learn to be a horse’ we may learn ‘anticipatorily’, which introduces an element of temporal inexactitude and even scepticism towards our ability to act autonomously.  But does this have to imply that to be a horse here means to be in control of one’s destiny?  Isn’t a horse a beast of burden, full of strength and power but also subject to the will of its master?  Then again, what if the one being pulled by the horse is also holding the reins?   Or John Wayne in Stagecoach, leaping from the carriage onto the horse in front of it? Bauman’s images of caravan sites and cloakrooms, by contrast, are images of physical spaces; even if such static imagery is serviceable, imagine trying to generate a discussion about, say, community and identity in modern society on the basis of questions like: ‘what if the electricity isn’t working?’ or ‘what if we are handed the wrong anorak?’


Parsons had no distance at all towards the ‘system’ metaphor, and neither he, nor Elias for that matter, would have written: ‘the introduction is necessarily abstract and can be skipped’.[24]  Goffman displays the same distance towards the drama metaphor at the start of Frame Analysis. ‘All the world is not a stage – certainly the theatre isn’t entirely.  (Whether you organize a theatre or an aircraft factory, you need to find places for cars to park and coats to be checked, and these had better carry real insurance against theft.)’[25] Goffman is not afraid to mix his master metaphors with others brought in for supplementary purposes:


Our activity, then, is largely concerned with moral matters, but as performers we do not have a moral concern with them.  As performers we are merchants of morality.  Our day is given over to intimate contact with the goods we display and our minds are filled with intimate understandings of them; but it may well be that the more attention we give to these goods, then, the more distant we feel from them and from those who are believing enough to buy them.’[26]


This looks like a recipe for the ‘fragile patchwork’ of which Richard Harvey Brown spoke earlier.  But it also reflects Goffman’s reluctance to commit himself too heavily to his metaphors; indeed, the sheer volume of material to which the dramaturgical metaphor or that of ‘frame’ appears applicable forced Goffman to develop an initial orientation into a bewildering array of lower level conceptual constructs even within the confines of the master metaphor itself: thus in the case of drama, we have performance, audience, front, setting, impression management, props, enactment; in the case of frame, keying, designs, fabrications, laminations.[27] 

            Some points: critique of Goffman by Geertz:

 The writings of Erving Goffman…rest…almost entirely on the game analogy. (Goffman also employs the language of the stage quite extensively, but as his view of the theater is that it is an oddly mannered kind of interaction game--ping-pong in masks - his work is not, at base, really dramaturgical.)… Social conflict, deviance, entrepreneurship, sex roles, religious rites, status ranking, and the simple need for human acceptance get the same treatment. Life is just a bowl of strategies .[28]


BUT while Goffman’ s world contains conmen and crooks aplenty, it is not constituted or defined by their behaviour.  Later in the same essay Geertz makes a more telling point about Goffman, albeit inadvertently, in the course of a criticism of the anthropologist Victor Turner Victor:


‘This hospitableness in the face of cases is at once the major strength of the ritual theory version of the drama analogy and its most prominent weakness. It can expose some of the profoundest features of social process, but at the expense of making vividly disparate matters look drably homogeneous’.[29] 


 There are two points here: the problem of number of cases embraced by a particular perspective; and disparateness versus homogeneity.  On the first, for any attempt to study something as general as ‘face-to-face interaction’, the infinity of possible examples is clearly both a temptation and a challenge.  Here Goffman’s work may be contrasted with the work of comparative historical sociologists who generally work with a handful of cases.  Barrington Moore based a theory of modern dictatorship and democracy on eight cases, his student Theda Skocpol formulated a theory of modern revolution on the basis of just three.[30]  But the second point is that the contrast between Skocpol and Goffman is not strictly one between few cases and many cases,.  Geertz’s version of how to do anthropology: ‘the anthropologist doesn’t study villages, he studies in villages’, by which he meant that the anthropologist’s task is to perform what he called a ‘thick description’ on a quite specific ethnographic case, and in so doing illuminate the manner in which an entire society or a culture holds itself together.  The classic example of this approach is his essay on the Balinese cockfight, By contrast with this, Goffman’s work is peppered with examples of strips of interaction taken from all over the world, from different historical periods, and from different genres – newspapers, memoirs, philosophical treatises, social psychology journal articles, field notes; instead of doing ethnography, Goffman takes ethnographic fragments and places them where they will fit within the overall architecture of his books.  Thus the section of the chapter called ‘Performances’ in The Presentation of Self contains material on, among other things, London clubs, Chinese public ceremonies, estate agents’ stationery, hospitals, army barracks, undertakers, sales offices, Adam Smith, the caste system, and Scottish crofting communities.  Material taken from these same sources will then crop up in another chapter dedicated to another aspect of interaction.  The same is true of Frame Analysis.  The upshot of Geertz’s objection: this produces description aplenty, but description that is thin compared with the detailed, layered, thickly descriptive ethnographic study of one or two cases in which a complex way of life might be laid bare.  The little worlds - of salesmen, clerks, diplomats, con artists and gamblers - from which Goffman takes his materials are constantly being broken down and their parts redistributed across the landscape of Goffman’s books, fitted, according to Geertz’s critique, into the procrustean bed of Goffman’s master metaphors. 

            However, Goffman does not reduce the disparate to the homogeneous in the way that Geertz implies; the detail, the detail! 














[1] Hobbes, Thomas, 1991, Leviathan; edited by Richard Tuck

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

[2] See Clifford Geertz, ‘Blurred Genres’ in Local Knowledge

[3] Goffman, Erving, 1959, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Harmondsworth: Penguin, p.45.

[4] Ricoeur, Paul, 1977, The Rule of Metaphor, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 53.

[6] Poggi, Gianfranco, 1972, Images of Society: essays on the sociological theories of Tocqueville, Marx, and Durkheim, London : Oxford University Press, 1972.

[7] Ricoeur, op. cit., p.285.

[8] Harvey, Richard Harvey, 1992, pp. 225-6. ?????????

[9] Parsons, Talcott, 1969,  Politics and Social Structure, New York: The Free Press, p.10.

[10] Parsons, Politics and Social Structure, p. 41.

[11] ibid., p.40.

[12] Elias, Norbert, [1939] 1982, The Civilising Process, Oxford: Blackwell, p.294.

[13] ibid., p.321.

[14] ibid., ????   p. 249

[15] Ibid., p.262.

[16] Elias, Norbert, 1978,What is sociology?; translated by Stephen Mennell and Grace Morrissey; with a foreword by Reinhard Bendix, London: Hutchinson, p.131.

[17] Bauman, Zygmunt, 2000, Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity, p.23.

[18] ibid., p.200.

[19] Goffman, Erving, 1971, Relations in Public, Harmondsworth: Penguin, p.9.

[20] Goffman, Erving, 1981, Forms of Talk, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p.2.

[21] Goffman, Erving, 1959, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Harmondsworth: Penguin, p.246. 

[22] Goffman, Relations in Public, pp.70-71. 

[23] Goffman. Erving, 1971, Relations in Public, Harmondsworth: Penguin, p.77.

[24] The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, p.10.

[25] Frame Analysis, p.1.

[26] PSEL, p.244.

[27] Williams, Robin, 1983, ‘Sociological Tropes: a tribute to Erving Goffman’, Theory, Culture and Society.

[28] Geertz, p?????????????

[29] ibid. ??????

[30] See Moore, Barrington, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy; Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions; Social Revolutions in the Modern World.