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Goffman’s Notion of Face-Work

Goffman’s Notion of Face-Work

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The notion of Facework was developed by Erving Goffman, to describe the development of “lines” of social interaction among individuals in a different setting. Goffman (1995) argues that, through evaluating one’s self in a group setting, people engage in both verbal and non verbal actions to point out their views. This is what Gofffman refers to as “line” and since it connotes one’s social value, it has been defined as their “face.” However, this essay will provide a practical example of an application of Goffman’s terminologies such as “out of face,” “in the wrong face,” and “in the face.”

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In tackling this exercise, we choose a group of four students and decided to conduct our observational assignment inside campus. We decided to go to the launch area that is outside the cybercafe where students do a lot of photocopying and class assignments. Since we are four members, we split ourselves in groups of two, where two of us will observe how students interact while photocopying their work. The other two will observe how students chat as they enter and leave the cybercafe. After 45 minutes, we met and compared notes of our observation in line with Goffman’s concept of Face Work.

Goffman (1995) describes the action of &ldquoin face” as a situation where people are in consensus or harmony. They tend to agree or maintain face and have feelings of confidence. In application to our observation, we found that we agreed on many issues. We agreed that students portrayed similarity in facial expression. As students queued around the photocopying area, we were able to observe that most of them were on their phones, either browsing or listening to music through headphones. Since we did not present varying opinions on our observation, all of us were “in face.” As a result, we were confident that our “self” reflected our inner feelings. This is in line with Goffman who explains that, when there is lack of multiple faces, the “in face” is in harmony with the self.


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Goffman (1995) explains the “wrong face,” as a situation where there is a discontinuity of information and negative feelings and tension are evoked from the self. In our observation of student’s actions and their interaction, most of us expressed the “wrong face” since we had different explanations. For instance, group members did agree on the nature of information that students were browsing on the internet as they trickle to the cyber. Other felt that most students went to the cyber to access and chat on Facebook while others felt they were accessing Google to conduct research. Fuurthermore, the concept of “wrong face” was displayed in the way group members evoked negative feelings, since each felt that their views were valid.

Finally, Goffman (1995) describes the concept of “out of face” as a situation where people in a group setting fail to come to an agreement, thus resulting to incidences of shame or threatened feelings. For instance, when people express the “out of face” scenario, it may result into a conflict or confrontation with other individuals. In relation to our observation, it was evident that we did not have many cases of “out of face” scenarios as we compared notes. Although we had different opinions of how students interacted around the launch area, and the conversations they engaged in, here were no incidences of confrontations. Therefore, in relation to the self, there were no expressions of “out of face”.

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In conclusion, I can say that our observations were successful and portrayed all the concepts of Goffman’s Facework. We were able to address the issue of face loss because our group was highly organized, and the group members confined themselves on observation and taking notes. In Goffman’s terms, our group accomplished the task of “line or faces” since we were able to integrates the different notions of the face.

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