The American Sociologist

, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 387–401 | Cite as

Erving Goffman as Sorcerer’s Apprentice

A Reappraisal of the Schelling-Goffman Relationship
  • Gary D. Jaworski


Thomas Schelling and Erving Goffman: who influenced whom, when and to what effect? Was there “influence” at all or, as Tom Burns suggests, independent discovery and convergence? These are the questions that this paper is meant to answer. Using available archival material and historical and textual analysis, the paper takes a fresh look at Goffman’s interest in and contribution to game theory. It charts the important first meeting in the late 1950s, their subsequent dialogue through publications, and the critical 1964 conference on “Strategic Interaction and Conflict,” where Goffman encountered an assembly of defense and nuclear strategists associated with the RAND Corporation. These include Daniel Ellsberg, who was a sharp critic of Goffman’s conference presentation, Albert Wohlstetter and, of course, Tom Schelling. During the heated discussion that accompanied Goffman’s presentation, the session chairman gave Goffman the sobriquet sorcerer’s “apprentice.” Ever the ally, Schelling said that he was sympathetic to Goffman’s “style of


Erving Goffman Thomas Schelling Game theory Strategic interaction Conflict theory Apprenticeship Communication 



The author thanks Yves Winkin and Paul Erickson for encouragement and counsel during formative stages of writing this paper. The author also thanks Robert Ayson for critical reading of the paper and Robert Jervis for sharing his remembrances of Schelling and Goffman during his years at UC Berkeley and Harvard. Material from the Mike Keen Papers is quoted with permission of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary D. Jaworski
    • 1
  1. 1.New YorkUSA

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