Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview
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ideas have had a major impact on social theory. He is considered a Chicago School field researcher, yet his methods were multiple and idiosyncratic. He seemed to have mastered completely the professional literature on his subjects, yet he wrote entirely from his own, unique literary space. His writings include Asylums ( 1961), Stigma ( 1964), Interaction Ritual ( 1967), Gender Advertisements ( 1969), and an important but not yet well understood article, "Felicity's Condition", published posthumously in 1983. He was once called sociology's Kafka for his uncanny, and disturbing, insights into human nature. In "On Face-Work", for example, he says that "universal human nature is not a very human thing." Though Goffman's writings have been used to justify the idea that social interaction is an arbitrary drama, this selection from early in his career shows his attempt to relate interaction to widely shared, if not truly universal, interaction rituals.

On Face-Work

Erving Goffman ( 1955)

Every person lives in a world of social encounters, involving him either in face-toface or mediated contact with other participants. In each of these contacts, he tends to act out what is sometimes called a line--that is, a pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which he expresses his view of the situation and through this his evaluation of the participants, especially himself. Regardless of whether a person intends to take a line, he will find that he has done so in effect. The other participants will assume that he has more or less willfully taken a stand, so that if he is to deal with their response to him he must take into consideration the impression they have possibly formed of him.


The term face may be defined as the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact. Face is an image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes--albeit an image that others may share, as when a person makes a good showing for his profession or religion by making a good showing for himself.

A person tends to experience an immediate emotional response to the face which a contact with others allows him; he cathects his face; his "feelings" become attached to it. If the encounter sustains an image of him that he has long taken for granted, he probably will have few feelings about the matter. If events establish a face for him that is better than he might have expected, he is likely to "feel good"; if his ordinary expectations are not fulfilled, one expects that he will "feel bad" or "feel hurt." In general, a person's attachment to a particular face, coupled with the ease with which disconfirming information can be conveyed by himself and others, provides one reason why he finds that participation in any contact with others is a commitment. A person will also have feelings about the face sustained for the other participants, and while these feelings may differ in quantity and direction from those he has for his own face, they constitute an involvement in the face of others that is as immedi-

Excerpt from Interaction Ritual ( Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1967 [ 1955]), pp. 5-9, 41-45.


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Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings
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