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Goffman's term for what he regards as a basic condition and structural feature of social interaction (especially in face-to-face interaction) which involves all participants conducting themselves in accordance with a social code involving a set of unwritten ground rules and standardized practices. These function to maintain the positive public image of all of those involved in any given encounter and to counteract incidents (such as gaffes or faux pas) which might threaten this and cause the kind of embarrassment that leaves a participant wanting to ‘fall through the floor’ (see also face-saving). In some contexts, for instance, people will act as if they are wholly deaf to someone's stomach rumbling loudly (especially if it is their own). Particular social skill in this regard is referred to as tact, savoire faire, or diplomacy. Gaucheness is a lack of such skill: as in the adolescent ploy that the mis-speaker was ‘only joking’. Goffman uses the term ‘ritual’ to refer to these practices because he argues that these are symbolic displays of respect (see also interaction rituals; ritual interaction). The specific practices employed are culturally and subculturally variable but the basic phenomenon seems to be universal.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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