tommy.jensen@sbs.su.se johan.sandstrom@ltu.se

Goffman and the Wolfpack


“How long would it take for me to know what’s really going on here?”, I asked. “About three to four months”, the worker answered. I looked at my watch. Twenty hours to go before my flight back to Saskatoon.

It takes time to get to know the social codes of a wolfpack. Arriving, staying at and leaving the McArthur River mine site, I kept thinking of the sociological opportunity to study social life in a very confined context. Workers, managers and contractors work, eat, sleep and play within the gates, for at least seven days at a time.

The sociologist Erving Goffman, particularly in his studies of life on an island (Presentation of self, 1959) and at a mental institution (Asylums, 1961), shows that regardless of how much rules and routines are imposed on subordinates under such circumstances, an organizational underlife develops, where “locals” and “inmates” reserve a space for themselves. These are not only stories of control, but also of autonomy, discretion and freedom (which counters many scholars’ reading of Goffman, who rather only see him as a functionalist). These are stories, however, that largely escape the researcher as a paratrooper, flying-in, flying-out. A frustrating feeling.

Below, you can listen to the song “Wolfpack (meeting the Other)”, through which we try to address this issue, by clicking on the audiofile here (you might have to reload the page for it to show):

Wolfpack (meeting the Other)

Lyrics: Johan Sandström
Music: Johan Sandström and Tommy Jensen
Instruments, vocals: Tommy Jensen

Can you show me
What’s going on
What’s everybody looking at
But no one sees

Can you tell me
What’s on your mind
What’s left unspoken
But that everybody knows

It’s the wolfpack
Howling in silence
Watching you move
Letting you go

It’s the wolfpack
Howling in silence
Watching its space
Letting you stay

I say letting you stay
Letting you stay

Can you move me
Tell me a story
Look me in the eyes
Speak from your heart

Can you fool me
Tell me a lie
Look me in the eyes
Say you don’t care

It’s the wolfpack
Howling in silence
Watching you move
Letting you go

It’s the wolfpack
Howling in silence
Watching its space
Letting you stay

I say letting you stay
Letting you stay

Let me show you
A story you know
A story you feel
But that’s never been told

Put into words
Put into colors
A humble return
A powerful tool

It’s the wolfpack
Howling in silence
Watching its space
Letting you stay


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