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On the Concept of Face

David Yau-fai Ho
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 81, No. 4 (Jan., 1976), pp. 867-884
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2777600
Page Count: 18
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On the Concept of Face
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Abstract

The concept of face is clarified and distinguihed from other closely related constructs: authority, standards of behavior, personality, status, dignity, honor, and prestige. The claim to face may rest on the basis of status, whether ascribed or achieved, and on personal or nonpersonal factors; it may also vary according to the group with which a person is interacting. Basic differences are found between the processes involved in gaining versus losing face. While it is not a necessity for one to strive to gain face, losing face is a serious matter which will, in varying degrees, affect one's ability to function effectively in society. Face is lost when the individual, either through his action or that of people closely related to him, fails to meet essential requirements placed upon him by virtue of the social position he occupies. In contrast to the ideology of individualism, the question of face frequently arises beyond the realm of individual responsibility and subjective volition. Reciprocity is inherent in face behavior, wherein a mutually restrictive, even coercive, power is exerted upon each member of the social network. It is argued that face behavior is universal and that face should be utilized as a construct of central importance in the social sciences.

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