Pride, Prejudice, Respect and Shame

Library - 0931I’ve been thinking about shame as a motivator/ social disciplinarian. Why do some people use shame instead of coercion? What has changed so that in the international system it is the question of shame that is becoming more important for some than that of force? I was thinking about Greece and the way the international system is attempting to use shame instead of other realpolitik moves to get them to comply with their financial ‘responsibilities’ and how this might have been different a few years ago. It may come to coercion, but it is the threat of default and the shame associated that seem the be the focus of the news currently. There is a tone of shaming in the characterizations of the economy and the finances that make it shameful to have gotten where they are. There have been a number of Economist articles/ podcasts about the way the Greek people ‘could’ get out of the hole quickly (implying that they are not because they cannot or will not make a hard decision). Of course, this ignores the other Eurozone issues that may have also contributed, but I’m not an economist and I don’t know. I guess my point is that shame seems to be increasingly a sanction tacitly used in IR and underpinned by the explosion of global media.

I was thinking about it in personal lives too. When we don’t want to say specifically ‘you can’t do this’ (or we don’t have the power to forbid) instead we use more subtle means that usually imply shame: ‘you shouldn’t do this’.

The funny thing is that this sort of soft power actually indicates so many things that are so much deeper. To have the ability to imply shame indicates a relationship in which the shamer inspires some sort of respect. If we were not an ‘us’ than my being ashamed or reprimanded holds no weight anyway. Who cares if someone totally unrelated to us says we should be ashamed. Who are they? Why do we care? Even if we have a relationship and I perceive myself as having higher status their shame becomes irrelevant because I am willing to deny that relationship, or see that their opinion is irrelevant because I have more power and their shame will not imply a loss to me.

But then, my personal incentive to want respect becomes even more important.

The other funny thing is that shame and pride are so closely intertwined. I’m (still) reading this book that Meghan gave me called Violence. It is a very good book although often very disturbing. The main thesis is the way that crime and punishment are much more closely linked than appear superficially. And that the culture of the US really is violent in premise. Not surprising that the people on the receiving end of things rolling downhill react. Not that it excuses their actions in any way. I don’t believe in the ‘total lack of individual agency because of the hegemony of structural power’ line. People always have choices. The issue is how limited those choices may appear to be and the tools that are furnished to overcome what seem like impossible situations. (*I’m coming back to this next)

This is way short, not fully reasoned out and I plan to come back to it but thought I would put it up there for people to think about in the interim.

Wheels on the bus

IMG_0121-2I had one of those affirming moments the other day when I was on the bus. I remembered why I chose sociology, and why I thought it was so interesting. I was sitting there and although I had a book to read, or music/ podcasts/audio books to listen to, for some reason I just wanted to really be in that bus at that moment. There was a really cute little boy, probably about 6 or 7 on his way somewhere with his mother and auntie (or grandmother maybe). He was rambunctious, as kids that age are, but not rude or bratty, just energetic and excited. The interesting thing was the way his affect changed, both unconsciously and completely when other groups including boys got on or off the bus. There was a group of 2 boys, about 12 who got on and off together, neither spoke the entire time they were there and although there was nothing intimidating about them, they had that look that kids get, growing up in a hard place, a sort of set look to the face and a slightly defensive stance. The first boy found these kids fascinating, and I wouldn’t say he stared, but he was totally focussed on them, aware of himself and them and no one else. He had this look, he half wanted them to notice him, to engage him, and he half was afraid they might, not sure if it would in fact be a good thing.

They seemed aware of, but unwilling to engage in the exchange, because they were too cool, or thought it better to stay distanced, or just couldn’t be bothered. They got off and for a short time the little boy went back to interacting with the women he was with.

Then, another group got on, it seemed like a family who had gone for Happy Meals as a Saturday night treat. It was a whole collection of boys all older than the one already on the bus. There was some exchange, because he got really excited and there was some question if he knew the youngest child. But in the same way that they other boys had been too cool for him, the older brothers were also a little too cool, and the younger brother, deciding familial approval was more important also feigned indifference.

The whole thing was so interesting, because it was about the ways we behave socially that we may or may not be aware of. Who we choose to engage with, or tacitly agree to align behaviours. I felt a little like I shouldn’t be watching, but the whole thing is so banal. We all watch on the bus, assigning people to groups, assessing behaviours, judging. The way I do it, and think about it (and write about it) say as much about me as the look on the little boy’s face when he wasn’t sure if it was better to be noticed (in order to maybe be deemed cool) or ignored (in case he wasn’t cool). Thats what sociology is though, for me, the excuse to try to understand who these people were, where they were from, where they were going and the dynamics of the their relations.

Not Naming?

Library - 0600I think that part of the reason the Third Reich was so scary was that they made a legitimate claim to authority before following their program of persecution. I think it was the element of legitimacy- that they had the power to say it was right that they do what they were doing. Overpowering and exclusion after all were not new, but I think the fact that it was couched in (and accepted for so long) as institutional policy of a legitimate state was the more horrific and indefinable fear producer. Related to that was the expectation then that if an individual too was supposed to be legitimate they should also follow the policy of exclusion or be deemed illegitimate themselves.

I was also thinking about the attempt to create social boundaries (in the sense of demarcations between groups). I think that Realists (and certain party hacks I know) believe the only way to ensure that you get what you want or need is to divide the population into groups and make sure your group has more power (soft or hard) to the extent that the other group(s) can be subjugated to your will. The issue is that those divisions are always constructed and ostensibly (with enough power) can be deconstructed.

I think so, do you?

I have lots of little things that I think about but that never really seem worthy of an actual post (although I keep being told that my posts are very long so it might be good to make them a little shorter). I decided, as I’d like to update more regularly that I will include more of the little random thoughts I have that are often unrelated but maybe offer something to think about:

SI Exif


I was wondering about the appeal of male a cappella groups. Why do they seem so ubiquitous at those privileged institutions of higher education and yet largely absent so many other places? I think its about tradition, they have had them since the days the colleges themselves were all male and the fact that it is institutionalized now adds value to what is otherwise pleasant, but slightly out of step with current social mores. So why value tradition? I think its because it’s a demonstration that you have been allowed to carry on your particular social customs for long enough for it to become tradition. As evidenced by Scotland and Ireland, at the point they were subjugated all their traditions and cultures were stamped out as much as possible by their invaders. The same is true for so many other conquered peoples for so long. Tradition is the indication that you have not been conquered and therefore been allowed to continue with whatever particular practice you may have had. Tradition is a mark of ongoing power and privilege. Crazy, huh?