Reconstructing the concept of face in cultural sociology: in Goffman’s footsteps, following the Chinese case

Xiaoying QI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


Few readers notice that in a celebrated essay, Goffman, in a footnote, acknowledges the Chinese source of his concept of face. Around the time that Goffman published “On Face-work,” Merton urged that theory development requires, among other things, clarification or refinement of concepts. If culture is taken to be effectively related to action and meaning, it is necessary to go beyond the approach in which theories, concepts, and methods developed in one socio-cultural context are simply applied to data generated in another. The present paper shows that concepts from other cultures may challenge taken-for-granted assumptions, received wisdoms, and established conventions. The paper draws on semi-structured interviews with respondents in a number of sites in mainland China. Examination of the various notions of face articulated by respondents suggests possible developments in sociological conceptualizations of face neglected in previous discussion. It is shown that an individual’s face generation and outcome may arise out of another individual’s status or behavior. An individual’s action may give rise to a collective face outcome and a collective’s circumstances may have impact on an individual’s face state. Additionally, it is shown that face itself may become an object of self-conscious deliberation and construction. The paper demonstrates that conceptualizations employed by Chinese subjects can lead to the identification or illumination of properties and relations neglected in mainstream cultural sociology. New directions of research and theorization are thus encouraged by incorporation of culturally extraneous experiences and categories into mainstream sociology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalJournal of Chinese Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese culture
  • Concepts
  • Face
  • Identity
  • Intellectual entrepreneur
  • Theory development


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