Goffman on Mental Illness: Asylums and “The Insanity of Place” Revisited


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Atlanta, August 14, 2010.

Direct all correspondence to Professor Dmitri N. Shalin, Department of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 South Maryland Parkways, Las Vegas, NV 89154–5033; e-mail: shalin@unlv.nevada.edu


This case study is designed to demonstrate that sociological imagination can feed on personal experience, that research practice interpolates our biographical circumstances, and that a systematic inquiry into the interplay between our professional and everyday life offers a fruitful avenue for sociological analysis. The discussion focuses on Erving Goffman's treatment of mental illness. The argument is made that the evolution of Goffman's constructionist views on mental disorder had been influenced by his family situation and personal experience.