About face threat an analysis of negative behaviors in computer mediated communication
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About Face Threat: An Analysis of Negative Behaviors in Computer-mediated Communication

Marie L. Radford, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Rutgers University ([email protected])Jocelyn A. DeAngelis, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Rutgers University ([email protected])Gary P. Radford, Ph.D., Professor, Fairleigh Dickinson University([email protected])Lynn SilipigniConnaway, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, OCLC

New York State Communication Association

October 21-23, 2011

Virtual Reference (VR)

  • Web-based chat & instant messaging (IM) CMC reference services

  • VR encounters capture full transcript of interaction between reference librarian & user

  • VR interactions complex & fraught with possibility of misunderstandings & miscommunications

Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior

“On Face-Work: An analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction”(1967)

Erving Goffman



“Much of the activity occurring during an encounter can be understood as an effort on everyone’s part to get through the occasion and all the unanticipated and unintentional events that can cast participants in an undesirable light, without disrupting the relationships of the participants”

(Goffman, 1967, p. 41)

Face Defined

  • Positive social value person claims

  • Self-image in terms of approved social attributes

Face-Work in Encounters

  • Face is located in flow of events

    • Feelings about face reinforced by encounters

    • If better face established –feel good

    • If expectations not fulfilled – feel bad or hurt

    • Neutral experience – expected, not memorable

Face Threat = Negative Face-work

Face Threat

  • Communication threatens face of interactants


  • Losing Face

    • Person caught in embarrassing or damaging position (e.g., in a lie or inappropriate behavior)

  • Wrong Face or Out of Face

    • Experience shame

    • Possible to maintain confidence, if others cover (e.g., one makes faux pas & others pretend not to notice)

    • Poise is ability to conceal wrong face or out of face

Face-Work in VR

  • Goffman provides powerful frame to analyze VR encounters

  • Face & face-work appear in flow of transcript (event)

  • Analysis identifies instances or lack of face-work


  • Data from Institute of Museum & Library Services Grant of $684,996

  • “Seeking Synchronicity: Evaluating Virtual Reference services from user, non-users, and librarian perspectives”

    • Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and OCLC, Online Computer Library Center, Inc.

    • Project duration: 2 ½ Years (10/05-3/08)

    • 4 phases including transcript analysis

Sample Selection

  • 850 VR transcripts randomly selected from 479,673 transcripts (8/04-11/06)

  • 746 usable transcripts qualitatively analyzed & coded

  • 1 transcript selected to illustrate face-threats in VR

  • “Physics” - “The Accelerating Bumper Car”Duration: 17 min., 8 sec.


  • Goffman offers powerful way to gain insights into VR practice & understanding of interpersonal dynamics in CMC

  • Physics transcript analysis reveals, similar to the FtF environment, importance of face-work, e.g., politeness rituals

  • Expressions of deference & demeanor (Goffman, 1956), are important to success of VR encounters

Future Research

  • Many questions involving participant’s perception of these interactions remain unanswered

  • New grant: “Cyber Synergy” (10/11-9/13) for $250K

  • Next analyze 500+ transcripts from 2010

  • Developing theoretical model based on Goffman

End Notes

This is one of the outcomes from the project

Seeking Synchronicity: Evaluating Virtual Reference Services from User, Non-User, & Librarian Perspectives

Funded by IMLS, Rutgers University, & OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc.

Web site:http://www.oclc.org/research/


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