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Politeness Theory

Susanne M. Jones

Subject Linguistics
Communication Studies » Interpersonal Communication

People Durkheim, Emile, Goffman, Erving

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Politeness theory is a sociolinguistic theory in the pragmatic tradition that was developed by Brown and Levinson, who extended Goffman's dramaturgical approach. Using Durkheim's work on social rituals, Goffman examined how people manage their public identities, which he labeled face . When in the presence of others, one's face is always on display and others will form impressions and respond to these impressions (→  Impression Management ; Self-Presentation ). Face, then, becomes a situated social identity that is not owned, but rather resides in the flow of human interaction. To have one's face invalidated by others means to lose face; to have it sanctioned is to have face. Face must therefore be maintained and is subject to constant threats. The process by which people maintain face is called facework . Because people are mutually concerned with maintaining each other's face, facework becomes a necessary social ritual that provides the cooperative mechanism for interaction order as opposed to interaction chaos. Considerable research in interpersonal communication has used politeness theory and facework to examine the communicative strategies people use to enact, support, or challenge face. Brown and Levinson extended Goffman's analysis by refining the concept of face, and by proposing a heuristic of politeness strategies people use to manage face-threatening acts (FTAs). ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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