Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science

Residual Categories and Disciplinary Knowledge: Personal Identity in Sociological and Forensic Investigations

R. Williams. Symbolic Interaction, 26(4), pp. 515-529. (2003).


A central feature of the development of sociological knowledge is the formulation and use of “descriptive frames of reference” within which theoretical and empirical work may be critically assessed. This article considers the way in which one such frame of reference—that developed by Erving Goffman to represent the variety of human science understandings of the nature of identity in social interaction—distinguished between “personal,” “social,” and “self” identity. The relative neglect of the first of these three categorizations is noted. Following Garfinkel’s suggestions for the “respecification” of social analysis, this article suggests the usefulness of an approach to the neglected issue of personal identity that suspends theoretical stipulation about an abstract noun in favor of an ethnographic study of a particular occupational group—forensic investigators—for whom an orientation to personal identities is a recurrent accountable practical concern.

Tags: , Robin Williams