The Individual and Society: the Social Role of Shame

  • Bina Nir
Keywords: Individual, Society, Shame, Emotion, Culture


The feeling of shame has a longstanding role in the relations between individual and society. In this article we shall distinguish between shame and shaming and try to understand the social and cultural function of shame. Even though shame is a feeling that has a physiological basis, the way in which we experience emotions differs from culture to culture since it is the meaning that we attach to an event that evokes the emotion rather than the event itself (Ben-Ze’ev 1996). In order to understand the phenomenon of social shaming in the present we must examine the social origins of this phenomenon in Western culture. The methodology most fitting to examine this cultural construct is the genealogical method, by way of which we shall come to see that shaming is not an essentially new phenomenon in Western culture, but only a new mode of expressing old patterns.