O'Driscoll, Jim (2008) Some problems with the concept of face: A review. In: 4th International Symposium on Politeness, 2nd - 4th July 2008, Budapest. (Unpublished)

As a way of referring to that part of human particularity which operates in (or at least relates to) interaction,
the concept of face enjoys widespread currency. Its appeal lies in its availability as a link (or at least a
median) between the (macro) sociolinguistic concern for identity and the (micro) pragmatic concern for
individual positionings within interaction.
This widespread, sometimes loose, employment of the term has thrown up several questions regarding
the most helpful way to construe its nature, relevance and applicability. Among them are:
- To what range of communicative behaviour is the concept potentially relevant?
- When, and to what extent, is it actually relevant?
- How is/are face(s) constructed? Does face exist only in communication? If, as is increasingly argued,
face is a discursive construct, then people’s faces are constantly subject to change, both with respect to
their value and contents. How do these two aspects interact?
- What is/are face(s) constructed from? What are the relative contributions of personal wants, personal
reputation, culture and situation?
- What is/are face(s) constructed of? Answers vary from a specific, very limited set of aspects (in Brown
& Levinson, just two) to a vast, open-ended number of them.
- How can we distinguish face from other ways of referring to individual traits (e.g. self-image, selfesteem,
personality, identity, reputation)?
- Can we accommodate in our theorising both an emic, culturally and situationally specific concept (face1)
and also an etic, culturally neutral concept (face2)?
This paper will do little more than identify such questions and show why they are important. It is
not intended as a reductionist call for a universally agreed definition but rather as an exercise in awareness-
raising so that when one of us employs the term, we at least know what we mean by it at the time.

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