Monday, December 21, 2020

Goffman on Face-Work - detailed summary

Goffman, Erving. (1967/1999). On Face-Work: An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction

Goffman's article about face-work examines the ceremonial gestures that people use when interacting face to face. Goffman argues that in situations where interpersonal communication takes place face-to-face, human beings function as actors in a play, in an attempt to preserve their image in the eyes of the "audience" around them.

For Goffman a person's social world is made up of countless social encounters (see also Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life). These require him to take a certain "line": that is, a pattern of verbal or non-verbal gestures by which he expresses his view of any given situation, and through which he expresses his appreciation towards those around him and towards himself. The term "face" (or mask for that matter) refers to the way a person conducts himself according to the "line" he assumes the environment believes he has taken. For example: a person presents his profession, or religion, in a good way (his "line") by presenting his self (his "face") in a good way.

The person responds emotionally in an immediate way to every social encounter. His feelings become part of the mask he has formed for himself. If the events shape his "face" better than he imagined he would probably feel good, and vice versa. In fact, it is the mask that shapes a person's emotional world. The rules in each social group and the definition of the situation, are what dictate how much emotion the person will experience towards his own mask, and how much emotion he will choose to share with his environment in order to preserve the image that the mask creates.

Sometimes, a person may find himself in a situation where he uses a "wrong face", i.e. ones that do not fit with the "line" dictated to him by his environment. This may happen when he is caught without having prepared such a "line" in advance, and therefore has not formed for himself a mask worthy of the given situation. When a person is in the "right face" for the given situation, he feels self-confident. This is because he feels he is taking exactly the "line" that the environment expects him to be on.

The combination of self-respect and consideration for others that the person adopts in social encounters obliges him to take an approach that will preserve both his mask and the masks of those around him. That is, in social interaction all those present should preserve both their personal image and that of their friends. This reciprocity is the basis for all interpersonal communication, especially in face-to-face speech.

It should be understood that wearing the mask is not a "natural" state of man, but a state that can be called a "working state". This is because the norm of social gatherings is not based on the mutual acceptance of each person as a person, but on a temporary situation, which requires the maintenance of clear rules that will allow for the proper conduct of society. Maintaining the mask is not the essence of social interaction. It is only the tool that man uses in order to conduct himself in the best way. In parallel, it can be said that learning how to wear a mask is actually learning the "rules of motion" of social interaction.

go to part 2 of the summary on the forms of face work

see also Stigma by Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman's Dramaturgy theory explained

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