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)

"Not then, men and their moments. Rather moments and their men. (3)


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

Detailed Outline

  1. Face, line, social worth, undertaking,
  1. The avoidance process (15.3)
    1. Dealing with incidents
      1. Deny/overlook – “tactful blindness”
      2. Admit but continue
      3. Turn away / time out
  2. The corrective process (19.1)
    1. Ritual disequilibrium
      1. Interchange
        1. Offense
        2. Challenge
        3. Offering
          1. Redefinition
          2. Compensation/punishment/expiation
            1. Rehabilitation of one’s “type” – One really is well developed Meadean self
            2. Assurance that ritual code is intact
        4. Acceptance
        5. Gratitude
  1. 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. Situation as face-work contest/match. Snubs, digs, one-up-man-ship, bitchiness.
  3. 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!"
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. "Thus, for example, in polite society, a handshake that perhaps should not have been extended becomes one that cannot be declined" (28).
  3. Situations become a cooperation game in which individual interest in own and other's face drives participants toward a collectively "rational" equilibrium.
  4. 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.)."
  5. Hinting communication (30). Deniable communication.
  6. Mutual self-depreciation/other-praise rituals. Negative bargaining. "No, I insist, let me pay." "No, I couldn't." Etc.
  7. 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")
  1. Double definition of self
    1. OBJECT/ME?: Image pieced together from expressive implications of flow of events
      1. Sacred objects subject to slights and profanation
    2. SUBJECT/I?: Player in ritual game who copes dis/honorably, un/diplomatically with judgmental contingencies of situation
  2. "…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. 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.
  1. Stunning density of symbolic stuff means face-to-face talk is full of this ritual stuff to an extreme degree.
  2. “to be in a state of talk” – participants declare themselves open to ongoing flow of communication
  3. Single focus of thought and attention. Participants signal ongoing participation. Non-participants signal their non-participation. .
  4. “occasion” as a naturally bounded unit (35.8)
  5. “Rules” – structure of self related to structure of spoken interaction
  6. DJR: I think on 36.3-37.1 we get translation of looking-glass-self into interaction order terms.
  7. Interaction proceeds in spurts (37.3).
  8. 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. Once something is thrown out there, it disrupts ritual equilibrium and someone else present needs to rebalance things.
  10. "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. 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. 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. The reciprocity of the system makes it possible for us to "be" together.
  1. 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. HINT AT BIG THEORY (42.1-5): ongoing relationships motivate encounters; encounters maintain ongoing relationships; relationship partners often share face; self  encounter  relationships  society
  1. 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. 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. 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. "Societies everywhere, if they are to be societies, must mobilize their members as self-regulating participants in social encounters" (44.7).
    1. So, what minimal model of humans do we need if we are to wind them up and see "society" happen?
    2. 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."
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