Face Work und Social Media Conference

Hildesheim, May 23 2013 - May 25 2013

Face Work and Social Media

Politeness and face work are now well-established concepts in linguistic pragmatics. Politeness theories state that each individual has, on the one hand, “positive face” needs for acceptance and social integration and, on the other hand, “negative face” needs for autonomy and personal freedom. These social demands are renegotiated in every communication situation. Communicative exchange is thus for the most part shaped by actions concerning one’s own or another’s face. This process is called face work. Strategies of politeness or impoliteness are thus always related to face work.

In recent years, research has focused on the question of politeness in computer mediated communication (CMC), for example in analyses of e-mail or chat communication. The field of communication in social media, however, has not yet been investigated. This includes forums, blogs, Twitter and social networks, which allow users to generate content with little technical effort. Other users have the possibility to react to these contributions, which often leads to a communicative structure similar to that of a dialogue, but differing from the latter in some essential aspects: (near) asynchronity of the communication situation, pseudonymity, lack of physical copresence, impossibility to send nonverbal signals via the body or the voice. In spite of these restraining factors, we can observe that users of social media develop specific linguistic strategies that allow them to achieve finely differentiated communication, especially concerning the relationship aspect.

Face work and politeness play a particular role in this process, all the more so because not all common strategies used in face-to-face situations can easily be translated into CMC, thus making it necessary, for example, to add new visual means to the verbal expression.

The conference “Face Work and Social Media” will therefore focus on communication in social online formats. We will investigate whether and how users develop specific linguistic strategies for the phatic – and in a broader sense pragmatic – aspect of communication, whether particular constraints of the formats necessitate a different handling of face work, and whether users apply new strategies, perhaps even in a reflected way.

Possible subject areas for papers might be:

  • Are the established theories of politeness still valid in social media or do we have to rethink the models, taking into account the specific features of the media?
  • Are common politeness strategies adopted from offline communication?
  • Which innovations in face work are present in social media and how can we explain them?
  • Which concrete linguistic means are employed in social media? Are there qualitative or quantitative differences from other communication situations?
  • How are the rules of politeness and face work negotiated in social media? Is there a fixed, reflected and respected set of rules of ‘netiquette’? How do users act in cases of rule violations? Which forms of meta-discussion are there? How and where do tacit agreements become manifest?

Theoretical approaches and concrete empirical analyses are equally welcome. Romance languages are the central research interest of the organizing team, so proposals in this field will be especially appreciated.

Please send your abstract (approx. 500 words) by 31 December 2011 to Kristina Bedijs (bedijs[a], Gudrun Held (gudrun.bachleitner-held[a] and Christiane Maaß (maassc[a] The conference language will be English. Papers investigating other languages are, however, also very welcome.