The politics of humiliation: Shame and shaming in modern history

Ute Frevert

My talk approaches shame through practices of shaming, more precisely: public shaming which I consider to be a crucial instrument of power. Such power can exert from the state, from institutions, from groups of people, or from individuals. I argue that the state, as a major agent, drops its shaming agenda (more or less) in the beginning of the nineteenth century, with a few remnants surviving until this very day. Society, meanwhile, takes the lead, in institutions such as schools, the military, and, increasingly, the media (including, in our days, the internet). On the other hand, shaming meets with growing criticism, even when it targets “the right people”. Sensitivity to shame and shaming responds to a concern in human dignity which, in turn, is triggered by processes of moralization and emotionalization.