From Face to Facebook: performing (im)politeness in social media environments

Panel session at the 5th International Symposium on Politeness, 30 June – 2 July 2010, Basel, Switzerland

Theresa Heyd (University of Pennsylvania), Cornelius Puschmann (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)

In its earliest days, politeness theory set out to identify “universals in language use” (Brown and Levinson 1978). Such claims to universality were later contested, in particular with regard to cultural variation (e.g. Wierzbicka 1991): norms of appropriateness, concepts of face and other sociopragmatic aspects are nowadays accepted to be (somewhat) culture-specific. In the light of such ‘variationist’ tendencies, it may be asked whether politeness and self-presentation are also medium- and technology-specific. Are there new politeness paradigms in online communication, especially in its most recent forms?

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr are “technologies of the self” (Foucault) where people do things with words in a very literal sense. Constructing a digital self via video, images and still most prominently language (“meforming”; Naaman et al. 2009) and negotiating it in exchanges with other users are central activities in social media formats. While facework could previously be classified unambiguously in terms of linguistic and non-linguistic actions, the digitally constructed self also “acts” via language when symbolically engaging in interpersonal activities such as liking, poking, friending, following, banning and muting. These linguistic quasi-actions replace the means which are available offline to indicate stance and manage impressions and therefore fulfill an important function. In a larger sense, it appears that the concept of “face” itself has taken on a new meaning in digital social media that is simultaneously more encompassing and more important: establishing and negotiating an online identity has become one of the central activities of Internet users.

We particularly invite contributions on the following issues:
* Constructing and maintaining face in social media
* Performative and metacommunicative acts in social media
* Consequences and implications of online self exposure: identity management, identity safety, privacy vs. exposure
* Performing face in social media vs. Web 1.0 and pre-digital settings
* The mitigation of face in online/offline interactions.

This panel focuses on the related aspects of self-presentation and symbolic actions as components of digital face management. We welcome contributions addressing all forms of online communication; studies regarding more recent social media are especially welcome. Both theory-building and data-driven contributions are of interest.

Abstracts (500 words max.) should be submitted by December 1, 2009. Please feel free to contact the panel organizers for more information:
heyd@ldc.upenn.edu
cornelius.puschmann@uni-duesseldorf.de

References

Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson. 1978. Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: CUP.

Foucault, Michel. 1988. “Technologies of the self.” In Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman and Patrick Hutton (eds) Technologies of the Self. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. 16–49.

Naaman, Mor, Jeffrey Boase and Chi-Hui Lai. 2009. “Is it really about me? Message content in social awareness streams.” CSCW 2010, February 6–10, 2010, Savannah, Georgia, USA. Available at http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~mor/publications/NaamanCSCW2010.pdf

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1991. Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: The Semantics of Human Interaction. Berlin: de Gruyter.

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