The identification of upright faces seems to involve a special sensitivity to "configural" information, the processing of which is less effective when the face is inverted. However the precise meaning of "configural" remains unclear. Five experiments are presented, which showed that the disruption of the processing of relational, rather than holistic, information largely determines the occurrence as well as the size of the face-inversion effect. In Experiment 1, faces could be identified either by unique combinations of local information (e.g. a specific eye colour plus hair colour) or by unique relational information (e.g. nose-mouth distance). The former showed no inversion effect, whereas the latter did. A combination of local and relational information (Experiment 2) again produced an inversion effect, although this effect was smaller than that found when only relational information was used. The results were replicated in Experiment 3 when differences in the brightness of local features were used instead of specific colour combinations. Experiment 4 used different retrieval conditions to distinguish relational from holistic processing, and demonstrated again that spatial relations between single features appeared to provide crucial information for face recognition. In Experiment 5, the importance of relational information was confirmed using faces that also varied in the shapes of local features.