Face is the public image a person presents or wants to present. Facework is the process of maintaining or gaining face and supporting or challenging another person's face (Amarasinghe, 2011). In other words, we can lose, save, give or get face. When we are in face, we typically respond with feelings of confidence and assurance. And when we are out of face, we are likely to feel ashamed and inferior (Goffman, 1967).
The concept of face is of Chinese origin and traced to the Confucian ideology. In Chinese culture it is conceptualised as relational, affective and emotional. Face is based on feelings and an appeal to promote harmonious human relationship which is considered as a major component of a collectivist culture. In contrast to individualist cultures, collectivist cultures stress the importance of cohesion and the priority to group goals over individual goals - hence the importance of harmony. The concept of face can only be understood from the point of reciprocity and interdependence. Face is essential to healthy social interactions and places emphasis on relationships instead of impression management (Jia, 1997).
Three types of facework are identified, i.e. dominating (e.g. defending and aggressive behaviours in order to maintain or gain face), avoiding (e.g. giving in) and integrating (e.g. apologising, compromising, problem solving). While dominating strategies are rather self-face oriented, avoiding and integrating strategies allow to save mutual face.
Face and facework are believed to be universal with culture-bound values and strategies. It is hypothesised that people in individualistic cultures might be more concerned about self-face needs than people in collectivistic cultures where harmony plays a central role and that they therefore apply more defending and aggressive strategies to save their own face (Chang, 2011).
Amarasinghe, A. D. (2011) A comparative analysis of facework strategies of Australians and Sri Lankans working in Australia. Queensland: Master Thesis
Chang, Y. (2011) You Think I am Stupid? Face Needs in Intercultural Conflicts. Journal of Intercultural Communication (25)
Goffman, E. (1967) Interaction Ritual. New York: Doubleday
Jia, W. (1997) Facework as a Chinese Conflict-Preventive Mechanism - A Cultural/Discourse Analysis. Intercultural Communication Studies, 8(1)
For a critique of the dichotomous classification individualism vs. collectivism see e.g. Voronov, M. & Singer, J. A. (2002) The Myth of Individualism-Collectivism: A Critical Review. The Journal of Social Psychology, 142(4), 461-480
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