In print: Honor and Shame in Western History (publication March 30th, 2023)

This book seeks to bring comparative perspective to the idea that honor and shame are two fundamentally important and closely related concepts of human social experience with a diverse and important history. Both vital responses are rooted in the social existence of mankind – human life is embedded in social interaction, attribution of respect and contempt. The book addresses the relevance and manifold manifestations of honor and shame in Western History in three parts, covering concepts and challenges of honor and shame, honor and shame in traditional European societies and honor and shame in modernity. The contributions cover Western history from Greek and Roman times to the 19th century and they make evident that the drive to acquire and uphold honor and to scrupulously avoid shame have been of tremendous influence for the social makeup of past societies from the dawn of humankind on into the ‘postmodern’ world of social interaction. “Honor and Shame in Western History” brings together fourteen contributions of interdisciplinary scholars from Europe and North America on the topic. The book is suited for a broad audience interested in European social history and the history of emotions.

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About this project

This webpage presents information about the social use of the affect shame in a historical and evolutionary perspective. Shaming and humiliating rituals in penal law and folklore have been applied in higher and lower justice over a period of more than 600 years in European history. The adaptive advantages of shame have been discussed recently with reference to ethnographic evidence and game theory. Although shame is deeply rooted in submissive behaviour, it seems to be a relatively new adaptation in primates and is said to be one of the few distinctive features of man from higher apes. In this ongoing study, I use material from historical late medieval and early modern Western and East-Asian societies for a cross-cultural comparison of the prosocial function of shame and shaming rituals in traditional societies.
The use of historical material allows us to observe long-term developments in the application of shaming punishments and therefore may help to better understand the functioning of prosocial emotions in penal justice. Although the ethnographic evidence of traditional societies suggests that penal shaming is a widespread and effective cultural trait based on a specific physiological adaptation of the human brain, higher levels of social organisation and institutionalized use of shaming rituals seem to produce stigmatizing and exclusive effects which may hinder reformation and social reintegration at the same time.

The project has been published in 2007 for the first time. Material has been added on a constant bases and after ten years a relaunch has been necessary to keep pace with the technological development. Therefore the whole website has been transferred to a WordPress installation. Out of copyright material in the bibliography has been released now for research purposes and can be downloaded. This material is provided under an Open Science paradigma and under the priciples of FAIR use.

Here is an overview about some of my papers/slides published on the topic of this website:

Vortrag auf den 6. Göttinger Freilandtagen, 11.-14. Dezember 2007 Goettinger FLT 2007 (EN)
Arbeitspapier EHBE 2008 Working Paper EHBE 2008 (EN)
Powerpoint HBES 2008 Kyoto HBES 2008 Kyoto (EN)
 DRW 2008 Heidelberg (GER)
 Stuttgart 2009 (GER)
 Berlin 2010 (GER)
 Paris 2010/2013 (EN)
 Collegium Gissenum 2014 (GER)