Shaming describes any form of reaction to deviant behaviour that causes shame in the deviant. Braithwaite assumes two different forms of shaming. Disintegrative shaming has a stigmatizing effect and excludes a person from the community. It thus provides for the emergence of secondary deviance and is thus related to the labelling approaches on a theoretical level. Reintegrative shaming, on the other hand, involves not only disapproval of deviance but also signs of forgiveness and a willingness to reintegrate the offender into the community.
Based on the labeling approach, control theories and theories of social disorganization, Braithwaite distinguishing between two forms of shaming to explain the different ways in which penalties work. Braithwaite understands shaming as “all social processes of expressing disapproval which have the intention or effect of invoking remorse in the person being shamed and/or condemnation by others who become aware of the shaming” (Braithwaite, 1989: 100).
According to Braithwaite there are two forms of shaming:
The crucial distinction is between shaming that is reintegrative and shaming that is disintegrative (stigmatization). Reintegrative shaming means that expressions of community disapproval, which may range from mild rebuke to degradation ceremonies, are followed by gestures of reacceptance into the community of law-abiding citizens. These gestures of reacceptance will vary from a simple smile expressing forgiveness and love to quite formal cere-monies to decertify the offender as deviant. Disintegrative shaming (stigmatization), in contrast, divides the community by creating a class of outcasts.
(Braithwaite, 1989: 55)
In disintegrative shaming, the focus is not only on the actual act committed, but on the person as a whole. The shamed person is degraded in his/her entire person. The stigmatisation that goes along with this has an effect on the social interactions of the ashamed person. For example, access to the labour market is denied and other measures are taken that contribute to social marginalisation. As a consequence, the ashamed person is now denied the opportunity to participate in mainstream culture. This ultimately leads to the formation of subcultural structures in which those so excluded join together.
The negative consequences of punishment, however, are not inevitable. In reintegrative shaming, the act of shame is combined with an offer of reintegration into the community. Braithwaite assumes that this reintegrating shame is particularly promising when people from the perpetrator’s social environment are involved.
It would seem that sanctions imposed by relatives, friends or a personally relevant collectivity have more effect on criminal behavior than sanctions imposed by a remote legal authority.
(Braithwaite, 1989: 69)
How and why does shaming work?
Braithwaite (1989: 81 ff.) lists the following points that explain the effectiveness of shaming:
- Deterrence works more for fear of shame than for fear of punishment.
- Shame also functions as an instrument of negative general prevention, since other members of society who experience the shame of a perpetrator would be deterred by this experience from committing crimes themselves.
- Both the special and general preventive effect of shame has the strongest effect on socially integrated members of society.
- A stigmatising form of punishment, on the other hand, weakens social control and strengthens the cohesion of stigmatised offenders.
- Shame is a social process that illustrates the harmfulness of certain actions. The effect of shame is more effective than that of deterrent punishment.
- Reintegrative shaming has a greater positive effect than stigmatizing shaming. The repentance of the perpetrator and the forgiveness of the community would strengthen criminal law through the symbolic power of community-wide consciousness building.
- Shame is a participatory form of social control in which citizens – in contrast to formal sanctioning – are participating in the events and become both instruments and goals of social control.
- The cultural process of the formation of shame and repentance leads to pangs of conscience. This guilty conscience is the most effective punishment for committing crimes.
- Feelings of shame have a double function: they are both the social process that strengthens the conscience and the most important support that must be used if the conscience does not contribute to conformity. The fear of formal sanctioning is also an inhibition threshold, but not so effective.
- Gossip about perpetrators and their crimes has an important function. Gossip promotes the development of a conscience and morality even outside the social circles in which the perpetrators operate.
- Another important function is public shaming, which replaces private shaming when children and adolescents escape the sphere of influence of family and school. It would therefore be up to the courts to provide for public humiliation of the perpetrators of crimes committed primarily by adults (e.g. environmental crimes).
- Public shaming generalises familiar principles into unknown or new contexts and integrates new categories of misconduct into existing moral concepts. Public shaming could, for example, “transform” the loss of a human life into a war crime or massacre.
- Cultures with a strong emphasis on reintegrative shaming create a smoother transition between socialisation practices in the family and socialisation in wider society. Within the family, social control shifts from external to internal control as the child grows older. In punishment-oriented cultures, this process is reversed. However, internal control is the more effective form of crime control – which is why families are the more effective control agents than police forces.
- Shaming that is excessively confrontational complicates the social reintegration of the ashamed. Even without becoming targets of direct humiliation, members of society may be aware when they become the subject of gossip. Here, special gestures of acceptance are needed to promote reintegration.
- The effectiveness of feelings of shame is often increased by the fact that shame is directed not only against the individual perpetrator but also against his family or – in cases of white-collar crime – against the company. Within these collective relationships, the individual is exposed both to humiliation by society and to strengthening informal control by the family/company. A negative and defiant attitude of the individual towards his critics and thus a stronger identification with the deviant role would also aggravate the consequences of the shame for the family or the company, which is why this would encourage the individual in the acceptance of the shame.
In a complex diagram Braithwaite summarizes the effects of reintegrative shaming as well as stigmatization (click to enlarge). This illustrates the hybrid character of the theory that makes use of other crime theories. In the upper left corner there is a reference to control theories. To the right, the reference to theories of social disorganization is illustrated. In the lower right half of the picture, Braithwaite sketches the consequences of criminalization from the perspective of labelling approaches (also with reference to anomie and subculture theories). In contrast, in the lower left half of the diagram, Braithwaite presents the consequences (or consequences without consequences) of a re-integrating embarrassment.
Implications for Criminal Policy
Braithwaite’s theory can be understood as an answer to just deserts philosophy, i.e. a criminal policy that is primarily oriented towards the retaliatory character of punishment and negative general prevention. At the beginning of the 1970s, a change in criminal policy in the USA (but also in other countries) had to be taken into account. A rehabilitative ideal in which the reintegration of the offender into society has top priority is increasingly receding into the background. It is replaced by the just desert paradigm (“Everyone gets what he deserves”), which can be understood as a kind of retaliation. According to this doctrine, punishment should be adapted and standardized to the seriousness of the crime, measured by the damage inflicted and the seriousness of the offender’s guilt. So-called “sentencing commissions” have developed guidelines for criminal judges for many US states, whose discretion in the sentencing of criminals has been severely restricted (cf. Sebba, 2014).
Braithwaite’s Restorative Justice approach is to be understood as a clear criticism of this development and as his draft of a Restorative Justice approach.
- Braithwaite, John (1989). Crime, Shame and Reintegration. Cambridge u.a.: Cambridge University Press. [Volltext]
- Sebba, Leslie (2014). Penal Paradigms: Past and Present. In: G. Bruinsma & D. Weisburd (Hrsg.) Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. New York: Springer Reference, S. 3481-3490.
- Christie, Nils (1977). Conflicts as Property. British Journal of Criminology 17 (1), 1-15.
A summary of the various theories on which Restorative Justice is based can be found here: http://www.unafei.or.jp/english/pdf/RS_No63/No63_10VE_Braithwaite2.pdf