11. In the face of the other: between Goffman and Levinas
In sociology, the concept of face is inseparable from the name of Erving Goffman. An intrinsic component of his theory of the situated order, the elementary structure of interaction face-to face has exerted unprecedented influence on human studies, redefining the idea of what should count as the social order as well as the social actor. Originally, Goffman defined face-to face interaction as ‘the reciprocal influence of individuals upon one another’s actions when in one another’s immediate physical presence’ (1967: 15). Two emphases in this quote, reciprocity and presence, are crucial for appreciating the significance of Goffman’s project. The view of the social order as what is already ‘there’ and yet ‘here and now’ helped refocus sociological inquiry from abstract systemic relationality to observable human relations, or ‘moments and their men’ (1967: 2). Approached from the latter perspective, face was defined as ‘a pattern of verbal and non-verbal acts by which the person demonstrates his/her understanding of the encounter and its context in terms of the other’s place in it and, more importantly, his own view of the self’ (1967: 5). In sum, as an intersubjective accomplishment, by instituting the Other as the sufficient and necessary condition for all forms of sociality, Goffman debunks the egological view of individuality in favour of the interpersonal self.