Arlen Egley, Jr.



The concept of shame as a unique contributor to social control has been historically absent from criminological theory with most research concerning itself with formal or legal sanctions. Recently, i.e. the last thirty years, shame has appeared under many different aliases in criminological theory, e.g. social stigma, peer disapproval, and gossiping. These concepts, however, appear to be more concerned with the process rather than closely inspecting the effectiveness of the outcome. In short, shame was approached as an unvarying concept whereby it's absence was attributed in the ineffectiveness of the process. Regardless of its form, the rise in shaming literature corresponds most directly to the rise in empirical research that considers informal mechanisms of social control.


John Braithwaite "Crime, Shame, and Reintegration"

Attempts to integrate anomie, social control, subcultural, learning, and labeling theories through a bridging (or shunting) process called shaming. Competing assumptions-value consensus (not merely the presence/absence, but an appreciable level of, i.e. law)


Two forms:

Reintegrative shaming-that which allows the offender to later be readmitted into the group. Directly discourages crime and participation in criminal subcultures.


Disintegrative shaming-that which creates permanent stigma which allows participation in criminal subcultures and, therefore, high crime rates



Three key variables in the process are:

Interdependency on others-this is affected by age, gender, marital status, and employment


Reaction to the crime - no social reaction, re- or de- shaming, or inability to be shamed


Exposure to criminal subcultures -of which the level is most critical during deintegrative shaming


Constructing a matrix of these three would yield nine possibilities.


Largest criticism to date is the lack of explanation for why one would violate the rules in the first place. Disintegrative shaming explains secondary deviance, but not primary deviance. The three variables seem to go hand in hand-effective shaming and socialization, coupled with the absence of subcultures.


Plus, is the relationship linear? Can too much reintegrative shaming lead to resentment and/or hostility by the offender?







To date, only a few empirical tests have been conducted in when simultaneously considering shaming and the threat of legal sanctions.


Couched in deterrence theory components such as rational choice and utility.


Shaming, like the threat of legal sanctions, can be conceptualized to contain: 1)

perceived probability of a cost incurred (certainty); and 2) perceived discomfort

if it occurs (severity)


"Conscience and significant others potentially influence criminality by decreasing the expected utility of crime,,


For clarity, the authors divide shaming into 1) shaming - of the self; feelings of guilt which could induce depression or anxiety; and 2) embarrassment-socially imposed punishment from those whose opinion/judgement the offender values; could lead to loss in valued relationships and a restriction in opportunities to achieve goals (this is admittedly difficult to measure given that it relies on a person's accurate perception of others)


l990- tested cheating on taxes, theft, and drunk driving Shame demonstrated the strongest direct effect on future risk of offending Embarrassment did not achieve statistical significance



"appeals to conscience or to a sense of community spirit as a strategy for enhancing compliance with the law are attempts to increase the threats of shame and embarrassment in a community"


Shame and embarrassment achieved significant significance


1993-much more in-depth study of drunk driving ('82-'9O)

Despite legislation, etc regarding drunk driving, respondents did not perceive a

higher certainty of legal punishment (despite evidence of a decline in those who

drove under the influence)


Significant increase in certainty and severity of shame Increase in certainty of embarrassment, but not severity.


1 993-Interpersonal Violence ('82-'92) Shame was not statistically significant on it's own


Threat of legal sanction slightly increased Threat of embarrassment increased significantly for males




The authors find these conclusions discouraging in that a "highly individualistic society with a weak sense of community" relies more heavily upon self-imposed shame as a deterrent to crime.


However, taken as a whole these studies suggest more that one process at work here. For example, the littering article found a rise in shame without a corresponding rise in the legal sanction (i.e. fine). Therefore, shaming can be effective on its own. On the other hand, as in the interpersonal violence article, a rise in the formal punishment was followed by an increase in the level of shame. Therefore, the two can also work in conjunction with each other. And even when there is an apparent failure of propaganda seeking to induce self-directed shame, there remains an increase in the perception of embarrassment.