How Professionals Cooperate through Conflicts: Networks and Social Face in the Workplace

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Conflicts are everyday sources of professional disagreement in the workplace. This article advances the study of professional conflicts by examining the symbolic interactionist processes through which professionals in South Korea cooperatively work through conflicts. Through ethnographic fieldwork conducted at a large hospital in Seoul in 2018, it is demonstrated that clinical professionals retain their poise and cooperate their way through conflicts by adhering to predetermined script-like ‘lines’ of action that mandate the protection of a triadic conception of social face: their own social face, that of their colleagues, and that of their hospital. Locked in disagreement over the risk profile of procedures for clients, embattled clinicians and nurses reroute conversations about conflicts to stress a shared identity in a bid to prevent humiliation, maintain network reciprocity, and preserve social face – of their dissenting counterparts, themselves, and their hospital. Professionals exercise a discerning level of heterogeneity in their conflict avoidance to maintain harmonious relationships, foster a personal brand of trust with clientele, and ultimately safeguard professional unity in the hospital.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCultural Sociology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • conflict management
  • organizational workplaces
  • professions
  • social face
  • social networks
  • South Korea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Social Sciences


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