A Performative Face Theory Analysis of Online Facework by the Formerly Involuntarily Celibate

Elizabeth Ann Hintz, Jonathan Troy Baker


Individuals identifying as involuntarily celibate (i.e., “incels”), who are unable to have sex despite wanting to, often later no longer wish to identify as incels. This transition requires former incels to perform facework to reconfigure these otherwise rigid identity categories. Guided by performative face theory, this study analyzed 77 narratives posted to Reddit by users who at one time identified as incels in which they discuss the transition away from inceldom. This analysis elucidates how former incels employ meta-facework strategies online to reimagine their identities and become deradicalized. Findings indicated seven factors that contributed to the initial “doing” of inceldom, two major categories of inciting incidents that catalyzed the “troubling” of performed incel identities, and two sedimenting and three subversive meta-facework strategies employed by Reddit users to facilitate the “undoing” of inceldom. Theoretical and practical implications are offered.


critical interpersonal communication, incel, involuntarily celibacy, performative face theory

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