Face Theory

Original Idea by Erving Goffman (1967)

- EVERYONE has face needs

- there are two types of face needs- positive face needs and negative face needs
- these two types of face needs are always in combat

- positive face needs:  need to look good, be likeable (culturally derived norms to be a desirable human being)
- negative face needs:  need to be free, have an open schedule, freedom from imposition by others

Positive and Negative face needs tie into one's belief system, cultural values (honor, virtue; shame, redemption)


Example:  Your friend asks for a ride to the airport

Positive face needs:  You think, I better take him because I want him to like me, and I want the reputation of being a reliable person

Negative face needs:  You think, this sucks, I don't feel like driving this guy to the airport.  I have other stuff that I could be doing, like sleeping, or saving the gasoline in my car.  He can find his own ride.

At this point, your positive face and negative face duke it out inside your head.  Then you say, 'Sure, what time do you need to go?'

Another example:  You need to ask your friend for a ride to the airport

Positive face needs:  You think, I'm pretty good friends with this guy.  I better ask him first, because if I don't, he will think that I'm not his close friend.  I really don't want to inconvenience him though, and be though of as a pain in the arse.

Negative face needs:  I am asking this guy to give me a ride to the airport because I really need to get there.  Taking a taxi would not only cost me a bunch of money, but it would be a much bigger ordeal to get there.

At this point, you think to yourself about these two things, then decide that your pocketbook is already in trouble for buying a ticket somewhere, so you'll just have to inconvenience somebody to save the money and the ordeal of ordering a taxi.  Tough luck for your friend, he's not busy then anyway.


On to Politeness (relates to Face)