Goffman studied the role of the family in the larger urban society. While a large majority of the population are law-abiding and conform to the social norms of the times, there is always an underbelly of disorderly conduct on part of a disturbed minority. As the process of urbanization takes off and more people start residing in major cities, the fissures start to appear within the apparent harmonious co-existence. There are several reasons why disorderly conduct on part of individuals and groups takes place. Some social scientists consider the family environment in which a child grows up to be a key factor in predicting teenage delinquency and street crime.
Erving Goffman was one such scholar who immersed himself in the social and family environment which he was studying. He carefully observed and recorded the ways in which people’ s behavior and interpersonal interactions are carried out in everyday life. He notes that “ people perform their social roles and, as they do so, they produce social order through their actions and the regular practices they engage in. Often these ways of acting and interacting are unnoticed and only become apparent when they are breached or broken.
Not all social life is cooperative, some are competitive and sometimes there is conflict, but generally, people are able to negotiate breaches and restore order” (Day, 2003) A prominent example of this theory in action is available to us from the works of Charles Dickens. His works are relevant to the discussion of contemporary Britain, for the process of modernization and urbanization of Britain was started during the author's lifetime, aspects of which are reflected in his writings.
Dickens too immersed himself in the social environment that he was observing and brought out astute insights into the nature of London street-life. Moreover, Dickens chose characters from lower strata of society for his stories, who are the most likely to engage in disorderly conduct. In many ways, the nineteenth century London street-life described by Dickens serves to validate the theory of Goffman and the latter's view of social order and disorder.
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