Shame and Shaming in twentieth-century Europe CFP

Conference at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, December 6-7, 2012


Conveners: Ute Frevert (Center for the History of Emotions, MPI for Human Development) and Mary Fulbrook (University College London)


Call for Papers


Since 1945, there has been an ongoing debate on how Germans ‘came to terms’ with the Nazi past. A lot has been written about feelings of guilt and/or shame, be they individual or collective. Generally, guilt has been considered the more appropriate category while shame was looked upon as a less appropriate response to the immediate past.


The juxtaposition of shame and guilt goes back to anthropological studies, mainly to Ruth Benedict’s influential work on Japan written during World War Two. Since then, many authors have questioned that juxtaposition and confirmed that guilt and shame work together in many ways. Shame cannot, as Bernard Williams put it, be absolutely divided from guilt, nor can guilt do without shame. Yet the very terminology has to some extent hampered discussions around shame / guilt / humiliation / shaming. Shame and feeling ashamed operate at different levels; humiliation has more to do with social shaming practices than with the individual emotion of shame. Shame is often not simply a response to humiliating practices, but may also be felt independently of public exposure, and may be a fundamental cause of an inability to admit guilt.


Our conference explicitly intends to move away from a dichotomous juxtaposition that has, as we see it, contributed confusion to the analysis of postwar societies rather than helping to clarify their moral and emotional landscapes. Instead, we want to explore the wide range of shaming practices and experiences that occurred during and after periods of war within and among victorious and defeated nations in twentieth-century Europe. Those practices and experiences have to be situated in more complex cultures of shame informed by religious, social, legal and political concepts.


Shaming practices can include ‘wars of words’ that aim at denigration and humiliation; they can encompass procedures of public humiliation (like shaving women’s heads or blaming people openly and publicly for alleged acts of treason and collaboration); they can mean rape and mutilation, often performed in front of an audience; they can amount to intentional and premeditated acts of disrespect, disregard, and disgrace. Shame as an experience and as a felt emotion may react and respond to those practices. But it can also, under certain circumstances, arise from one’s own actions – or inaction – and need not be instigated by others.


We start from the hypothesis that feelings of shame (and what may at some times be its opposite, honour) are emotions occurring in distinct social settings. They may be grounded in religious beliefs, social and political structures, as well as legal prescriptions. They have to do with status and power and, conversely, with feelings of powerlessness and loss of control. They are ubiquitous in everyday life and precede modernity. What may be new about modernity, however, is the connection of shame/honour and nationhood. From the early nineteenth century, national honour and national disgrace became powerful concepts that gradually captured the intellectual and emotional imaginations of many educated Europeans. The total wars of the twentieth century saw them gain momentum and turn into defining political categories. Germany’s obsession with national shame post-Versailles is well-known, and so are the Nazis’ attempts to wipe off that shame and restore honour. But what about other nations in Europe and beyond? Are they equally concerned with honour and shame while they wage or endure war? Is there a clear distinction between victorious and defeated nations? Or do we find pockets of shame even among those who take pride in having belonged to the ‘right side’?


Furthermore, how do public practices relate to private emotions? People can be ‘shamed’ (publicly humiliated) for something they were not themselves ashamed of. In which case, who atones? How are people branded as ‘carriers’ of a community’s guilt, whose sacrifice partly atones the guilt of the community? The public practice of shaming and atoning may be a way of relegitimising a national community. After an intense period of humiliation, the process of rebuilding national honour can begin. In the British context, for example, it is striking that World War Two has constantly been revisited culturally because it is a high point in national honour at a time of national financial crisis and the fading of Britain’s status in the international arena.


At the same time, there are very private and personal feelings of shame that may be entirely unrelated to questions of national honour, but rather refer to a person’s own social and moral universe – whether or not this is explicitly articulated in relation to particular religious or political or social values, or whether it is deeply internalized and relatively inarticulate. What caused individual feelings of shame in relation to war among post-war Europeans? How did feelings of shame relate to any sense of guilt about their actions or inaction in one role or another during the war? Are there differences to be observed between those who perpetrated atrocities, collaborated with or facilitated acts of aggression and persecution, and those who were the various victims of war, or who, after the war, sought to cast themselves in the role of victims? Are there distinctive differences between those who, during the Cold War, lived on one side or the other of the Iron Curtain; did living under conditions of authoritarian or democratic rule make a difference to the emotional landscape with respect to feelings of shame? To what extent did the connection between shame and notions of honour that was so prevalent before 1945 survive after World War Two?


We thus invite papers that shed light on shaming procedures and shame experiences in Europe during and after World War Two. Explicit comparisons (continuities/discontinuities) with World War One and the interwar period are strongly encouraged. Contributions are welcomed from scholars at all levels. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

–          Gender/class/race/age differentials

–          Cultures of subjectivity; agency versus victimhood

–          Propaganda (internal/external)

–          Direct encounters between warring parties (diplomatic, military, social, cultural)

–          Symbolic practices (tearing down monuments, urinating on flags, etc.)

–          Private feelings of shame, (un)related to public practices (evidence of letters, diaries, oral history interviews)


We ask for short proposals (500 words), accompanied by a brief biographical statement of position, current research and principal publications (if any), to be sent by no later than 18 March, 2012 to: (Christina Becher)


Citer ce billet
Damien Boquet (2012, 3 février). Shame and Shaming in twentieth-century Europe CFP. Les émotions au Moyen Âge, carnet d'EMMA. Consulté le 17 juin 2024, à l’adresse