Erving Goffman (1922-1982) held the position of Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He served as President of the American Sociological Association in the year leading up to his death in 1982. Goffman is considered as the pioneer of the study of face-to-face interaction and has made a substantial contribution to micro-sociology. He is recognised as a major figure in the symbolic interaction perspective. In 2007 he was listed as the sixth most cited author in the humanities and social sciences (The Times Higher Education Guide, 2007).
‘On face-work’ is Goffman’s first essay from his book entitled ‘Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-face Behavior’ which was originally written in 1955. It considers the approaches to human interaction alongside five more essays featured in this book and focuses on the concept of the face. His essay on face-work offers an analytic study which explores interaction as a ritual process. It is instrumental in providing a sound understanding of the definition of face and is a comprehensive insight into basic kinds of face-work.
Some of Goffman’s other works include ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, ‘Asylums’, and ‘Stigma’ which are a series of books about social behaviour. They are often referred to as modern classics. The essay on face-work can be considered as an expansion of Goffman’s previous works on interaction and included in this series.
Goffman refers to his essay on face-work as ‘An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction’ (Goffman, p.5). He essentially sets out to prove to the reader that social interaction is a ritual game that we act out and play by the rules. The author provides us with some new vocabulary including terms and phrases which identify forms of social interaction. Goffman defines terms such as ‘line’ and discusses some of the impressions that we as individuals are expected to live up to.
One of the main themes this work addresses is interaction order, which was Goffman’s starting point for his analysis. Goffman examines the procedures which are associated with the order of interaction and the ways in which we interact to maintain face. He also dissects face-to-face encounters. His analysis is carried out from a dramaturgical perspective.
The text uses language that is comprehensible and it is organised in a logical manner making it easy to follow. The work is separated into sections using sub-headings which clearly identify the themes being discussed. Footnotes appear frequently giving further explanations of points being made and also direct us to sources with added information. This work provides us with an excellent understanding of how we as individuals present ourselves to others when interacting in our daily lives.
Social interaction is a central theme in sociology and society results from these interactions. Goffman’s essay on...