Cover image for Is shame necessary? : new uses for an old tool
Is shame necessary? : new uses for an old tool
Jacquet, Jennifer., author.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [2015]

Physical Description:
209 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Presents a "case for public shaming as a nonviolent form of resistance that can challenge corporations and even governments to change policies and behaviors that are detrimental to the environment. Jennifer Jacquet argues that public shaming, when it has been retrofitted for the age of social media and aimed in the proper direction, can help compensate for the limitations of guilt in a globalized world. Jacquet leaves us with a new understanding of how public shame, when applied in the right way and at the right time, has the capacity to keep us from failing other species in life's fabric and, ultimately, from failing ourselves"
Shame explained -- Guilt's ascendancy -- The limits to guilt -- Bad apples -- How norms become normal -- The 7 habits of highly effective shaming -- The scarlet internet -- Shaming in the attention economy -- Reactions to shaming -- The sweet spot of shame -- Appendix: Shame totem v.2.1.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library BF575.S45 J335 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Audubon Library BF575.S45 J335 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Clarence Library BF575.S45 J335 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Crane Branch Library BF575.S45 J335 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Kenmore Library BF575.S45 J335 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library BF575.S45 J335 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library BF575.S45 J335 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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An urgent, illuminating exploration of the social nature of shame and of how it might be used to promote large-scale political change and social reform.
In cultures that champion the individual, guilt is advertised as the cornerstone of conscience. But while guilt holds individuals to personal standards, it is powerless in the face of corrupt institutions. In recent years, we as consumers have sought to assuage our guilt about flawed social and environmental practices and policies by, for example, buying organic foods or fair-trade products. Unless nearly everyone participates, however, the impact of individual consumer consciousness is ineffective.
Is Shame Necessary? presents us with a trenchant case for public shaming as a nonviolent form of resistance that can challenge corporations and even governments to change policies and behaviors that are detrimental to the environment. Jennifer Jacquet argues that public shaming, when it has been retrofitted for the age of social media and aimed in the proper direction, can help compensate for the limitations of guilt in a globalized world. Jacquet leaves us with a new understanding of how public shame, when applied in the right way and at the right time, has the capacity to keep us from failing other species in life's fabric and, ultimately, from failing ourselves.

Author Notes

JENNIFER JACQUET is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University. She works at the intersection of conservation and cooperation, focusing on the human dimensions of large-scale social dilemmas, such as overfishing and climate change. She formerly wrote for the Guilty Planet blog at Scientific American.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

This debut from NYU Environmental Studies assistant professor Jacquet puts forward the thesis that shame can be harnessed as an unlikely weapon for justice in the social-media age. She begins by showing that many of today's ethical movements have fizzled because consumers are satisfied by alleviating their own consciences, rather than effecting widespread change. Jacquet then offers a clear and helpful distinction between guilt, defined as holding someone accountable to his or her own standards, and shame, meant to hold an individual accountable to group standards or norms. Comparing the two human instincts of avoiding shame and acquiring honor, she argues that the former is more deeply-rooted, and the latter is regarded as essentially optional. After describing useful techniques for applying shame, the book turns to the specific areas where it could be put to good use. Jacquet takes too much for granted in some of her underlying points, such as that individual achievement is antithetical to humans' social nature. A more philosophical examination of the subject is warranted, but the book serves as an astute how-to and defense of shame. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



What Do We Mean by Shame? Exposure is the essence of shaming, and a feeling of exposure is also one of shame's (the emotion) most distinct ingredients and intimately links shame to reputation. For our purposes, an audience is a prerequisite for shame, even if that audience is imagined. While there are personal forms of shame that are experienced privately, this book is about not the shame and inner turmoil you would feel if your father brought home an inflatable sofa (trust me), but the shame you would feel if your friend saw it. This book focuses on the shame that is possible because an audience is exposed to a transgression. Moreover, it is most interested in the public act of shaming rather than the emotion of shame. Shame can lead to increased stress and withdrawal from society. Shame can hurt so badly that it is physically hard on the heart. But shame can also improve behavior. A 2009 study of 915 U.S. adults found that half could recall at least one meeting with a doctor that left them feeling ashamed, most often for smoking or being overweight. Of those who reported feeling ashamed, nearly half then either avoided or lied to their physician in subsequent meetings to evade any further shame, while the other half said they were grateful to the doctor, and about one-third of the patients said they even initiated improvements in their behavior. Some people do not feel shame even over the ghastliest of crimes. (In 2011, Reginald Brooks, who twenty- nine years earlier had murdered his three sons while they slept, extended the middle fingers of both hands while strapped to the gurney in an Ohio execution chamber, as his ex- wife and the mother of his children watched through a glass window.) At the other extreme, the sting of shame for some people, even for minor offenses, can be crippling. (Writer Jonathan Franzen blamed shame over his first marriage, sexual inexperience, and general innocence for his decade-long writer's block, when semi-autobiographical sentences made him "want to take a shower.") At its most efficient, a sense of shame can regulate personal behavior and reduce the risk of more extreme types of punishment: conform to the expected behavior or suffer the consequences. The threat of shaming often provokes a fear of feeling shame. Shame Versus Guilt In contrast to shame, which aims to hold individuals to the group standard, guilt's role is to hold individuals to their own standards. For cultures that champion the individual, guilt is preferable to shame, because shame means worrying about the group. Guilt is advertised as a cornerstone of the conscience. It needs only an internal voice nagging its owner, sending reminders about how awful violence, stealing, or dishonesty can make us feel. The anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead were the first to draw a distinction between guilt and shame cultures--they claimed that most Western countries fell into the guilt category while Eastern countries relied more on shame. Benedict's 1946 book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, in which she examined Japanese culture without actually going to Japan (the war prevented it), attempted to show that the Japanese used shame as the primary means of social control. China was later filed in the shame category, too, for, among other reasons, the cultural importance of "saving face." In the West, however, we tell ourselves with a certain amount of smugness that we have been unshackled from shame's constraints. There are a few reasons that this might be at least partially true, and one has to do with the sense of self. Western cultures are more individualized, leading people to see themselves as independent and autonomous, acting according to one's internal compass, whereas people from Eastern cultures are more likely to describe themselves in relation to others. Western cultures also generally lack the tight-knit hierarchy that probably existed in our prehistoric past and still arguably exists to a greater degree in some Eastern cultures, as anthropologists such as Benedict and Dan Fessler have pointed out. (Yet it's also not surprising that shame in the West is frequently associated with poverty--one proxy for low rank in the social hierarchy.) Also, Western societies tend to have a worldview that encourages tolerance of a greater range of certain behaviors, which means we perhaps more often disagree over which behaviors warrant shaming. Many Western countries have also gotten rid of shaming punishments against individuals, especially shaming by the state. It's probably safe to say that we all prefer to live without the fear of dunce caps, whipping poles, or hot-iron branding. It is even tempting to think of shaming as we might wisdom teeth or Puritan doctrine--as a vestigial sign of something that humans needed in tougher times. However, as novelist Salman Rushdie reminded us, "Shame, dear reader, is not the exclusive property of the East." When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States after a series of sexual-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, he confessed that he was "deeply ashamed." After pulling off Wall Street's biggest swindle and before receiving his 150-year prison sentence, Bernie Madoff told the court that he was "deeply sorry and ashamed." After rapper Kanye West stole the microphone at the MTV Video Music Awards from Taylor Swift, the winner of the best female video category, and declared that Beyoncé (whose hit "Single Ladies" came out that year) had made one of the best videos of all time, West said he was "ashamed." Did these Western icons feel guilty? Hard to say. Did they feel ashamed? Without having measured their stress levels, it's difficult to be sure. What we can say is that, at the very least, they wanted us to think they did. Where Shame and Guilt Fit into Punishment Shaming, which is separate from feeling ashamed, is a form of punishment, and like all punishment, it is used to enforce norms. Human punishment involves depriving a transgressor of life, liberty, bodily safety, resources, or reputation (or some combination), and reputation is the asset that shaming attacks. These deprivations can be active, in the sense that something is taken away--such as through capital punishment, prison, torture, fines, and pickets--while other deprivations are passive, such as when something is denied, which is the case with ostracism or the silent treatment. (A survey of two thousand Americans showed that two-thirds admitted to using the silent treatment on someone close to them, while three-quarters said they had been the victim of the silent treatment.) Humans have devised intricate nonviolent punishments. Charles Darwin, for instance, wrote about tribes in South America for whom long hair was "so much valued as a beauty, that cutting it off was the severest punishment." There is solitary confinement, which in American prisons can last for decades. When my brother and I would fight, my mom used a nonviolent punishment of making us sit on the stairs and hug each other for twenty minutes. Shaming punishments can be violent or, most often today, nonviolent. Again, the definition of shaming we are using involves the exposure--threatened or actualized--of a transgressor in front of a crowd. These punishments might be nonviolent, but that does not mean they aren't painful. Punishment can be inflicted by the person or group against whom the transgressor transgressed, or by a third party, or by oneself (guilt acts as a form of self-punishment). Generally, punishment carries a cost to the punisher, like the energy needed to perform the punishment, as well as some risk of retaliation. Punishments that are extra dangerous or risky are considered costlier. Sometime in our distant past, we realized that mere exposure to public opprobrium could be used where physical, often violent elimination from the group had previously been required. The emergence of shaming as a social option would have reduced the cost of punishment, because mere exposure that served to damage an individual's reputation in front of the group could have negative consequences--for instance, members of the group might choose not to cooperate with the shamed individual in the future. Shaming and ostracism are closely linked, but shaming is less costly. And unlike transparency, which exposes everyone, shaming exposes only a section of the population. When and how did shaming emerge? The first hominids, like many other social species, could keep track of cooperation and defection only by firsthand observation. As group size got bigger, and ancient humans grappled with issues of cooperation, the human brain became bet­ter able to keep track of all the rules and all the people. The need to accommodate the increasing number of social connections and monitor one another could be, according to the social-grooming hypothesis put forward by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, why we learned to speak. With language, we no longer needed to see someone's behavior to learn about it. Language allowed humans to manipu­late social status using gossip, which provided further fuel for a system of reputation and shaming. (And this might not be unique to humans--some scientists suspect that parrotlets, for instance, can identify one another as individuals by their calls and can attach a note of approval or disapproval.) It also meant the crowd concerned with the miscreant's behavior got bigger, because the behavior no longer had to be seen, but could be heard via gossip. Individuals could be exposed to the crowd for transgressing without being physically present. Negative gossip--a subcategory of shaming--can be considered one of the first lines of defense against a transgressor and was probably as important in human prehistory as it is today. Anthropologists have shown that two-thirds of human conversation is gossip about other people--Polly Wiessner found this to be true in her studies of the !Kung bushmen in Botswana, and Robin Dunbar and his colleagues also found the two-thirds rule held for conversations in a British university cafeteria. Wiessner classified only 10 percent of the conversations she heard as praise; the other 90 percent was criticism, a lot of it in the form of jokes, mockery, and pantomime. The transgressor or one of his close relatives (it was almost always a he ) was often within earshot, indicating that the gossips expected the verbal shaming would bring him into line. Negative gossip is often employed with the assumption that it will make its way back to the transgressor either directly or indirectly, by influencing others not to be cooperative toward the transgressor. Spoken language was just the first tool to facilitate gossip. The next communication upheaval occurred with the rise of writing. Since the arrival of writing, there have been, according to Internet scholar Clay Shirky, five major advances in communication technology: movable type and presses, the telegraph and telephone, recorded media, broadcast media, and digital technologies, including the Internet. Each time communication was transformed, shaming was as well. At first we had only gossip among humans that occupied the same physical space; now gossip gets worldwide exposure and can travel via print and digital media, over telephones, television, and cyberspace. Excerpted from Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool by Jennifer Jacquet All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 Shame Explainedp. 3
2 Guilt's Ascendancyp. 27
3 The Limits to Guiltp. 43
4 Bad Applesp. 60
5 How Norms Become Normalp. 77
6 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Shamingp. 98
7 The Scarlet Internetp. 118
8 Shaming in the Attention Economyp. 135
9 Reactions to Shamingp. 149
10 The Sweet Spot of Shamep. 170
Appendix: Shame Totem v.2.1p. 185
Acknowledgmentsp. 189
Notesp. 193
Indexp. 203

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