Performative Shaming and the Critique of Shame

Thought: A Journal of Philosophy:1-9 (2024)
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Some philosophers argue that we should be suspicious about shame. For example, Nussbaum endorses the view that shame is a largely irrational or unreasonable emotion rooted in infantile narcissism. This claim has also been used to support the view that we should largely abandon shaming as a social activity. If we are worried about the emotion of shame, so the thought goes, we should also worry about acts which encourage shame. I argue that this line of reasoning does not license the leap from the critique of shame to the critique of shaming. This is because shaming does not always aim to inflict shame on its targets. Many acts of shaming (which I label ‘performative shaming’) should simply be understood as aiming to serve their characteristic function of shoring up social norms and standards.

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Euan Allison
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München


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