Face Work Definition Essay

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Goffman, Erving. 1955. "On-Face Work" (338-343).

Similar to George Herbert Mead’s theory of the development and interactions of “The Self, the I, and the Me,” Erving Goffman (1955) describes the development of “lines” and how they become the basis, essentially, for individuals in social situations. Through evaluating one’s self and other individuals in a particular group setting, one engages in verbal and nonverbal actions that are indicative of one’s particular point of view, otherwise known as a “line” (Goffman 1955, 338). The aforementioned “line” taken is “the positive social value” (Goffman 1955, 338) acclaimed by one, and is defined as the(ir) “face.”

As in other instances in which there is more than one representation of self involved, this notion of multiple faces can result in either chaos or harmony. When a line and internal image of one’s self are harmonious, one’s said to “have,” “be in,” or “maintain” one’s face (Goffman 1955, 339). Feelings of security and contentedness result from feeling as though one is in face. Subsequently, feelings of confidence arise when one can maintain face successfully.

In contrast, since the face is an emotive representation of self, discontinuity in the maintenance of face evokes negative feelings and tension. If any discontinuity between information and perceived line exists, one is described as “in the wrong face” (Goffman 1955, 339). Similarly, one can be “out of face” (Goffman 1955, 339) when one fails to have a line ready for portrayal. In any of these cases of failed face, extensive shame and threatened feelings result. If these negative feelings are exhibited, further damage ensues. In addition, emotions are associated with particular faces. For example, if I were “in” a particular face and was involved in conflict with another individual, said individual would from that point on associate that face with the confrontation.

After establishing the basis for what a face is, Goffman addresses the particular set of societal rules and etiquette also connected with how to interact with others and respect their faces. The goal of social encounters’ goal is to maintain face, and social relationship etiquette includes not destroying the presented face of anyone in the group. The individual’s priority is to work towards a particular image for one’s self and maintain it once it is achieved. Finally, when one’s place in society is solidified, whether voluntarily or not, they (from that point on) act accordingly avoiding people and places that would elicit conflict or put face in danger. Since people invest themselves in ideas and ideas are what are vulnerable to offenders (by way of communication), people must often sacrifice justice when put in the face of danger in order to save face.

After discussing the very particular manner in which people establish themselves and interact with others, Goffman concludes that human nature involves systematic self-regulating participants that are socialized through rituals to hold certain values and abide by particular standards of behavior. Ultimately, human nature is not natural, but a “ritually organized system of social activity” (Goffman 1955, 342).

Tweets:

  1. 1922-1982. University of Toronto – 1945. Ph.D from the University of Chicago – 1953.Taught at Berkeley (until 1968), and then the University of Pennsylvania.
  2. Other works: Asylums (1961), Stigma (1964), Interaction Ritual (1967), Gender Advertisements (1969), and Felicity’s Condition (1983).
  3. “Sociology’s Kafka” (Lemert 2010, 338)… For statements like, “Human nature is not a very human thing: (Goffman 1955, 338).
  4. Through evaluating one’s self and those in a group setting, one performs verbal and nonverbal actions that are indicative of his particular point of view, called a “line” (Goffman 1955, 338).
  5. The line taken is “the positive social value” (Goffman 1955, 338) acclaimed by one and is defined as the person’s face.
  6. Each face, others and self, evokes whatever emotions have become associated with that face.
    1. Face is emotive representation of self and others. Discontinuity evokes more feelings.
  7. When a line and internal image of one’s self are harmonious, one’s said to “have,” “be in,” or “maintain” (Goffman 1955, 339) face.
  8. How many “options” one has in regards to line and face is contingent upon how well the co-participants in the situation “know” the person in question.
  9. Inter-dependency of faces within a group as well as the likelihood of contact with the same face determines the types of lines and faces people portray.
  10. When discontinuity, between information and perceived line, exists one is described as “in the wrong face” (Goffman 1955, 339); similarly one can be “out of face” (Goffman 1955, 339) when not having a line ready for portrayal.
  11. Security and contentedness result from feeling as though one is in face; confidence also consequence.
  12. When one is out of face/in wrong face, extensive shame and threatened feelings result.
    1. Showing these negative things furthers damage.
  13. Anglo-American idiomatic terms say we can “lose face” or “save face” while Chinese talk about “giving face” (Goffman 1955, 340).
  14. Social encounters’ goal is to maintain face; a greeting’s job is to welcome interaction and propitiate for lost time.
    1. A farewell signifies there can be later interaction and apologize in advance for separation time between them.
  15. Social relationship etiquette includes not destroying the presented face of anyone in the group.
  16. One must work towards a particular image for one’s self and work to maintain it once achieved.
  17. When one’s place in society is solidified, whether voluntarily or not, they act accordingly avoiding people and places that would elicit conflict or put face in danger.
  18. People invest themselves in ideas and ideas are vulnerable to offenders through communication (though it can be avoided).
    1. Sacrifice justice to save face.
  19. Human nature involves self-regulating participants that are socialized through rituals to hold certain values and abide by particular standards of behavior.
  20. Human nature is not natural, but a “ritually organized system of social activity” (Goffman 1955, 342).

Sources:

GOFFMAN, ERVING. 1955. “On Face-Work.” Pp. 338-343 in Social Theory: The Multicultural Readings (2010) edited by C. Lemert. Philadelphia: Westview Press.

Original source: GOFFMAN, ERVING. 1955. Pp. 5-9 and 41-45 in Interaction Ritual Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1967 [1955].

(See Lemert 2010, 338 for “original source” citation*)

In accordance with DJJR:

On Face-Work (1955)

“For example, in polite society, a handshake that should not have been extended becomes one which cannot be declined.” (28.4)
"Many gods have been done away with, but the individual himself stubbornly remains as a deity of considerable importance. … In contacts between such deities there is no need for middlemen; each of the gods is able to serve as his own priest" (95).

Outline of Essay

  1. Definitions Face, line, social worth, undertaking
  2. The Basic kinds of face-work
  3. Making Points – The Aggressive Use of Face Work. Situation as face-work contest/match. Any of the threats to face/situation can be exploited, manipulated. Fishing for compliments, setting up confirmatory events, offenses you know others will take (it being unbecoming to complain), take your ball and go home, debase self to guilt others.
  4. The Choice of Appropriate Face-Work
  5. Cooperation at Face-Work
  6. Ritual Roles of the Self
  7. Spoken Interaction
  8. Face and Social Relationships (41)
  9. The Nature of the Ritual Order

DEFINITIONS

a) Face, line, social worth, undertaking,

THE BASIC KINDS OF FACE-WORK

  1. a) The avoidance process (15.3)
    1. i) Dealing with incidents
      1. (1) Deny/overlook – “tactful blindness”
      2. (2) Admit but continue
      3. (3) Turn away / time out
  2. b) The corrective process (19.1)
    1. i) Ritual disequilibrium
      1. (1) Interchange
        1. (a) Offense
      2. (b) Challenge
      3. (c) Offering
          1. (i) Redefinition
          2. (ii) Compensation/punishment/expiation
            1. 1. Rehabilitation of one’s “type” – One really is well developed Meadean self
            2. 2. Assurance that ritual code is intact
      4. (d) Acceptance
      5. (e) Gratitude

3) MAKING POINTS – THE AGGRESSIVE USE OF FACE WORK

  1. a) Any of the threats to face/situation can be exploited, manipulated. Fishing for compliments, setting up confirmatory events, offenses you know others will take (it being unbecoming to complain), take your ball and go home, debase self to guilt others.
  2. b) Situation as face-work contest/match. Snubs, digs, one-up-man-ship, bitchiness.
  3. c) Interactive aggression is as much about showing you can maintain interactive balance as about the content of snubs and such. Ripostes, squelches, toppers. "Oh yeah, well take this!"

4) THE CHOICE OF APPROPRIATE FACE-WORK

  1. a) Social norms govern expected handlings of threats to face. When is it appropriate to show poise, when should one break down and apologize, etc.? Knife-edge moment when participants don't

know if a small gaffe will be ignored by offender or whether attention will be called via an apology, explanation, etc.

5) COOPERATION AT FACE-WORK

  1. a) Face-work is frequently a group project. Savoire-faire, tact, diplomacy, gaffe, and faux pas can refer to either the actor's own face or that of others.

"Thus, for example, in polite society, a handshake that perhaps should not have been extended becomes one that cannot be declined" (28).

  1. b) Situations become a cooperation game in which individual interest in own and other's face drives participants toward a collectively "rational" equilibrium.
  2. c) Second order tact. Helping others to help themselves helping oneself (29). Self-effacing prefaces. Warnings about gaffes to avoid. Perhaps the most classic: "I'm just a beginner (so be gentle, etc.)."
  3. d) Hinting communication (30). Deniable communication.
  4. e) Mutual self-depreciation/other-praise rituals. Negative bargaining. "No, I insist, let me pay." "No, I couldn't." Etc.
  5. f) Goffman claims that our willingness and ability to play this game is what makes it possible for the self to be a "ritually delicate object" and for talk to proceed as we know it (and, in some sense, this way is akin to what Simmel described in "Socialty as Play Form of Sociation")

6) RITUAL ROLES OF THE SELF

  1. a) Double definition of self
    1. i) OBJECT/ME?: Image pieced together from expressive implications of flow of events
      1. (1) Sacred objects subject to slights and profanation
    2. ii) SUBJECT/I?: Player in ritual game who copes dis/honorably, un/diplomatically with judgmental contingencies of situation
  2. b) "…the person seems to have a special license to accept mistreatment at his own hands that he does not have right to accept from others" (32). Might be a self-limiting system: under normal circumstances one won't overslam oneself but others might.
  3. c) Only you can forgive slight affronts by others to your sacred image. Only others can forgive such affronts you administer to yourself. Institutional design: “…each participant tends to be given the right to handle only those matters which he will have little motivation for mishandling.” (33.2) Rights and obligations assigned so as provide no incentives subject/I to abuse role of self as sacred object.

7) SPOKEN INTERACTION

  1. a) Stunning density of symbolic stuff means face-to-face talk is full of this ritual stuff to an extreme degree.
  2. b) “to be in a state of talk” – participants declare themselves open to ongoing flow of communication
  3. c) Single focus of thought and attention. Participants signal ongoing participation. Non-participants signal their non-participation. .
  4. d) “occasion” as a naturally bounded unit (35.8)
  5. e) “Rules” – structure of self related to structure of spoken interaction
  6. f) DJR: I think on 36.3-37.1 we get translation of looking-glass-self into interaction order terms.
  7. g) Interaction proceeds in spurts (37.3).
  8. h) Any interaction initiation is risky : others may ignore you or otherwise "not play along." Or she may insult others, requiring a comeback. Or praise them, requiring a denial.
  9. i) Once something is thrown out there, it disrupts ritual equilibrium and someone else present needs to rebalance things.
  10. j) "His aim is to save face; his effect is to save the situation" (39.2). For situations it's good that self works the way it does. For self it is good that talk works the way it does.
  11. k) Lots of hazards with this system, of course. Reciprocal relation of face and interaction – sometimes you can save one only by losing the other (39.5)
  12. l) Cf. (40.4) “Too little perceptiveness, too little savoir faire, … person comes to be a real threat to society…. To much perceptiveness, too much pride … person becomes thin-skinned … too much savoir-faire … too socialized ….”
  13. m) The reciprocity of the system makes it possible for us to "be" together.

8) FACE AND SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS (41)

  1. a) Encounters are generally part of "repeated play" at relationships. Goal is to get into and out of social encounters without changing relationship between interactants or without disturbing expected trajectory. "Hello again" and "Until next time" link interaction across space-time of ongoing relationships. Emotional energy put into these bridge the interaction-empty spaces in between encounters.
  2. b) HINT AT BIG THEORY (42.1-5): ongoing relationships motivate encounters; encounters maintain ongoing relationships; relationship partners often share face; self  encounter  relationships  society

9) THE NATURE OF THE RITUAL ORDER

  1. a) More accommodative than competitive. Goffman calls logic used to think about other types of social order "school boy" – very Catholic, simple economistic : work hard to get ahead, obey the rules or risk punishment. A "hard, dull game."
  2. b) Society runs an easier game, Goffman suggests.
  3. Whatever his position in society, the person insulates himself by blindnesses, half-truths, illusions, and rationalizations. He makes an "adjustment" by convincing himself, with the tactical support of his intimate circle, that he is what he wants to be and that he would not do to gain his ends what the others have one to gain theirs. And as for society, if the person is willing to be subject to informal social control – if he is willing to find out from hints and glances and tactful cues what his place is, and keep it – then there will be little objection to his furnishing this place at his own discretion, with all the comfort, elegance, and nobility that his wit can muster for him. … Social life is an uncluttered, orderly thing because the person voluntarily stays away from the places and topics and times where he is not wanted and where he might be disparaged for going. He cooperates to save his own face, finding that there is much to be gained from venturing nothing. (43.6)
  4. c) In interaction, it's not about "facts" but about ideas about oneself. "Ideas are vulnerable not to facts and things but to communications" (43.8). Social interaction not a simple game of reward and punishment but rather one of playing or not playing.
  5. d) "Societies everywhere, if they are to be societies, must mobilize their members as self-regulating participants in social encounters" (44.7).
    1. i) So, what minimal model of humans do we need if we are to wind them up and see "society" happen?
    2. ii) Ritual. Perceptive, have feelings attached to self, self expressed through face, pride, honor, dignity, considerateness, tact, poise.
      1. "Universal human nature is not a very human thing."
      2. "The general capacity to be bound by moral rules may well belong to the individual, but the particular set of rules which transforms him into a human being derives from requirements established in the ritual organization of social encounters."


image: GIF from D. Witt (link)


George Herbert Mead's approach to social psychology is an important contribution to the new pragmatism in sociology (link). Mead puts forward in Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist a conception of the self that is inherently social; the social environment is prior to the individual, in his understanding. And what this means is that individuals acquire habits, attitudes, and ways of thinking through their interactions in the social environments in which they live and grow up. The individual's social conduct is built up out of the internalized traces of the practices, norms, and orientations of the people around him or her.

Erving Goffman is one of the sociologists who has given the greatest attention to the role of social norms in ordinary social interaction. One of his central themes is a focus on face-to-face interaction. This is the central topic in his book, Interaction Ritual - Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. So rereading Interaction Ritual is a good way to gain some concrete exposure to how some sociologists think about the internalized norms and practices that Mead describes.

Goffman's central concern in this book is how ordinary social interactions develop. How do the participants shape their contributions in such a way as to lead to a satisfactory exchange? The ideas of "line" and "face" are the central concepts in this volume. "Line" is the performative strategy the individual has within the interaction. "Face" is the way in which the individual perceives himself, and the way he perceives others in the interaction to perceive him. Maintaining face invokes pride and honor, while losing face invokes shame and embarrassment. So a great deal of the effort extended by the actor in social interactions has to do with maintaining face -- what Goffman refers to as "face-work". Here are several key descriptions of the role of face-work in ordinary social interactions:
By face-work I mean to designate the actions taken by a person to make whatever he is doing consistent with face. (12)
The members of every social circle may be expected to have some knowledge of face-work and some experience in its use. In our society, this kind of capacity is sometimes called tact, savoir-faire, diplomacy, or social skill. (13)
A person may be said to have, or be in, or maintain face when the line he effectively takes presents an image of him that is internally consistent, that is supported by judgment and evidence conveyed by other participants, and that is confirmed by evidence conveyed through and personal agencies in the situation. (6-7)
So Goffman's view is that the vast majority of face-to-face social interactions are driven by the logic of the participants' conceptions of "face" and the "lines" that they assume for the interaction. Moreover, Goffman holds that in many circumstances, the lines available for the person in the circumstance are defined by convention and are relatively few. This entails that most interactional behavior is scripted and conventional as well. This line of thought emphasizes the coercive role played by social expectations in face to face encounters. And it dovetails with the view Goffman often expresses of action as performative, and self as dramaturgical.

The concept of self is a central focus of Mead's work in MSS. Goffman too addresses the topic of self:
So far I have implicitly been using a double definition of self: the self as an image pieced together from the expressive implications of the full flow of events in an undertaking; and the self as a kind of player in a ritual game who copes honorably or dishonorably, diplomatically or undiplomatically, with the judgmental contingencies of the situation. (31)
Fundamentally, Goffman's view inclines against the notion of a primeval or authentic self; instead, the self is a construct dictated by society and adopted and projected by the individual.
Universal human nature is not a very human thing. By acquiring it, the person becomes a kind of construct, build up not from inner psychic propensities but from moral rules that are impressed upon him from without. (45)
Moreover, Goffman highlights the scope of self-deception and manipulation that is a part of his conception of the actor:
Whatever his position in society, the person insulates himself by blindnesses, half-truths, illusions, and rationalizations. He makes an "adjustment" by convincing himself, with the tactful support of his intimate circle, that he is what he wants to be and that he would not do to gain his ends what the others have done to gain theirs. (43)
One thing that is very interesting about this book is the concluding essay, "Where the Action Is". Here Goffman considers people making choices that are neither prudent nor norm guided. He considers hapless bank robbers, a black journalist mistreated by a highway patrolman in Indiana, and other individuals making risky choices contrary to the prescribed scripts. In this setting, "action" is an opportunity for risky choice, counter-normative choice, throwing fate to the wind. And Goffman thinks there is something inherently attractive about this kind of risk-taking behavior.

Here Goffman seems to be breaking his own rules -- the theoretical ones, anyway. He seems to be allowing that action is sometimes not guided by prescriptive rules of interaction, and that there are human impulses towards risk-taking that make this kind of behavior relatively persistent in society. But this seems to point to a whole category of action that is otherwise overlooked in Goffman's work -- the actions of heroes, outlaws, counter-culture activists, saints, and ordinary men and women of integrity. In each case these actors are choosing lines of conduct that break the norms and that proceed from their own conceptions of what they should do (or want to do).  In this respect the pragmatists, and Mead in particular, seem to have the more complete conception of the actor, because they leave room for spontaneity and creativity in action, as well as a degree of independence from coercive norms of behavior. Goffman opens this door with his long concluding essay here; but plainly there is a great deal more that can be said on this subject.

The 1955 novel and movie Man in the Grey Flannel Suit seems to illustrate both parts of the theory of action in play here -- a highly constrained field of action presented to the businessman (played by Gregory Peck), punctuated by occasional episodes of behavior that break the norms and expectations of the setting. Here is Tom Rath speaking honestly to his boss. (The whole film is available on YouTube.)


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