The purpose of this paper is to discuss the concept of stigma and stigmatizing rituals, with specific reference to the applications of deviant labels and strategies to resist the negative consequences associated with adopting said labels. It will then examine disintegrative models of shaming, such as scarlet letter methods, and outline the ways these are beneficial or harmful. Finally, this will be compared with the reintegrative approach to shaming, in order to determine which model has the most to offer in the judiciary system.
It is important to begin this discussion with an operational definition of stigma. According to Goffman, as quoted by Heckert and Best (2008), stigma is a feature of an individual which is associated with stereotypes based on said attributes, which are in turn thoroughly degrading or dishonourable. In continuing his definition, Goffman identifies three major groupings of stigma, namely bodily disfigurements (such as a cleft palate), character deficiencies (such as drug addiction), and group membership (stigma based on status such as race and religion) (Heckert and Best 2008). Further, as noted by Twining, Arluke, and Patronek (2000), Goffman says that the negative consequences of stigma can include exclusion, anxiety and discrimination, but that stigmatized individuals develop interpersonal strategies to cope by lessening (or even neutralizing) it, or by evading it altogether. Finally, Herman and Miall (1990) note that labelling theory shows how, by labelling someone as a deviant, it can cause them to adopt the label and become the very thing they are labelled.
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This paper will now examine the diverse strategies employed by people to resist the application of a deviant label in specific case studies. In a recent article on pit bull ownership, the authors discuss the breed stigma that has developed about pit bulls, which manifests in avoidance and fear (Twining et al. 2000). Owners help to manage the stigma in a number of ways, including by using passing, where they take advantage of confusion about the breed to pass their dogs off as American Staffordshire Terriers, an unspoiled identity, or as mixed or unknown breeds (Twining et al. 2000). A further strategy used was to try debunking media coverage as featuring ”selective reporting, sensationalism, a lack of objectivity, and a failure to provide context” (Twining et al. 2000:430). A third strategy was to alter the physical presentation of the dogs, by minimizing stereotypical spike collars or other accessories which would enforce pit bulls' negative stereotype (Twining et al. 2000). This case study clearly shows a variety of techniques used by people to avoid the application of a deviant label.
In an article by Irwin (2001) on tattoos, the author discusses the process wherein tattoos began to be accepted in middle-class society. Individual tattooees used different legitimation strategies to neutralize potential tattoo stigma, including co-opting accepted mainstream motivations (such as to celebrate college graduation) as an explanation for being tattooed (Irwin 2001). Another strategy used is to offer verbal neutralizations of stigma, such as by condemning the condemner of their behaviour (Irwin 2001). A final strategy was to conform to conventional aesthetics, wherein tattooees often chose small, discreet, traditional designs (especially for their first tattoo), and referred to them as art (Irwin 2001). These are all strategies employed to resist or mitigate the application of a deviant label.
In an article by Herman and Miall (1990) on the positive consequences of stigma, the authors discuss the positive outcomes of the stigma of ex-psychiatric patients and infertile women. Each group gains advantages from the stigmatized label, which helps neutralize the negative effects. Ex-psychiatric patients benefited in that their label provided them with excuses for some pre- and post-treatment behaviours, and excused them from usual role duties, and in some cases strengthened family ties (Herman and Miall 1990). Involuntarily childless women benefited from the label of infertile in that it legitimized their childless role, served as a basis for career growth opportunities, and legalized their disabled role within adoption institutions (Herman and Miall 1990). These and the preceding examples all demonstrate ways in which people resist the negative consequences of deviant stigma labels.
This paper will now discuss the successful application of deviant labels and the process of stigmatization, by first describing the rationale of shaming according to its proponents, as well as its functions and purpose, paying close attention to degradation ceremonies known as scarlet letter conditions. Shame and the process of shaming will be explained, followed finally by a breakdown of a degradation ceremony. The increasing popularity of these mechanisms for control will then be examined, as well as their delineation from previous methods.
To begin, scarlet letter punishments are penalties based on shaming and degrading an offender, in public and with an element of public participation (Antebi 2008). By revealing an offender's misdeeds to the public, it causes them to feel a negative emotional response (Antebi 2008). Proponents of shaming see it as rationalized by the desire of the public to be protected in combination with their scepticism that traditional methods of punishment such as fines, parole, and incarceration are effective (Antebi 2008). Scarlet letter punishments are justified as an inexpensive alternative to incarceration, which is costly and often too severe to fit the crime, or fines, which imply that justice is for sale, or community service, which is associated with the laudable acts of civic-minded people (Antebi 2008). Further, proponents argue shaming punishments are effective at inducing the desired results of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation (Antebi 2008). The deterrence effect operates on the principle that the limitation of freedom involved (for example, being ordered to tell a crowd that they abused their wife) is unwanted, and will produce a negative emotional response (Antebi 2008). These factors, along with the negative social consequences that could result, are thought to deter the offender and others from offending in the future, although there is still debate about whether this is universally effective in today's atomized world (Antebi 2008). In discussing shaming penalties' effect on rehabilitation, which is explained as a change in the offender's preferences for committing the offence, Antebi (2008)notes that much of the effect of shaming seems to be punitive in nature, and that the social isolation that may result from public disapproval could work against the purposes of reintegrating the offender into society. In addition, courts have increasingly found that shaming penalties are “are punitive, and not rehabilitative” (Antebi 2008:7). According to Brilliant (1989), the purpose of punishment is “the deserved infliction of suffering on evildoers and the prevention of crime” (1358), in addition to “retribution, education, deterrence, and incapacitation” (Brilliant 1989:1358). Brilliant (1989) goes on to argue that many instances of shaming penalties “improperly mix punitive and rehabilitative conditions” (1359). This section shows the ongoing nature of the debate about scarlet letter shaming punishments.
Shame itself can be seen as a humiliating state of moral condemnation (Van Slyke, Waldo, and Bales 2008). Shaming involves the application of a conspicuous label meant to make the public aware and the offender humiliated (Van Slyke et al. 2008). Reducing an offender's self-worth, combined with threatening ostracization, are the main punitive aspects of shaming, as they carry real consequences (Karp 1998). However, like Antebi, Karp (1998) outlines several criticisms of shaming, such as the risk of forming oppositional subcultures, a disregard for human dignity, and an inflexible approach toward systemic causes of deviance which may contribute to the offence. This is a major potential risk in using disintegrative shaming.
Historically, shaming rituals were the most common and severe method of punishment, leading an individual to be shunned by their community, a major deterrent in communitarian societies (Antebi 2008). They tended to include physical humiliation, such as through branding, which was painful and would today be considered cruel and unusual (Antebi 2008). Today, these rituals tend to shame on a psychological level, as in public exposure penalties (such as having to affix a drunk driver license plate to your car), debasement penalties (such as having to shovel horse manure), and apology penalties (such as having to apologize to a church congregation for robbing them) (Antebi 2008). This progression shows that while shaming rituals have improved in terms of physical suffering, there is still a punitive and disintegrative element to many of them that must be addressed.
The final section of this paper looks at reintegrative shaming and provides contrast between it and the disintegrative shaming model just discussed, highlighting the processes involved and the factors impacting success. To begin, it is important to mention that, as outlined above, theorists such as Karp have found much to criticize about disintegrative shaming models. The most worrisome of these criticisms is that the process could increase the likelihood that an individual will re-offend due to social scorn which labels them a criminal (Karp 1998). Reintegrative shaming, however, differs in that it creates shame in the offender among friends and family, and forces them to apologize to their victim (Van Slyke et al. 2008). The purpose of this is to build in the offender an understanding of how they have hurt their victim, their family, and their community, and to thusly encourage them to think through the consequences of their future actions (Van Slyke et al. 2008). The process ends with reconciliation, wherein the victim forgives the offender and the community welcomes them back from their shameful place (Van Slyke et al. 2008). Unfortunately, it seems the disintegrative approach is increasingly the more popular choice (Van Slyke et al. 2008). It is now clear that this is a dangerous trend which must be addressed.
In order to further clarify the different models of shaming, this paper will now examine the conditions making shaming possible in each. In the disintegrative approach, both the act and the offender must be first identified as violating a norm (Karp 1998). This is followed by defining the offender by the act (their identity tied to their deed), which must be coupled with the belief that the party denouncing the offender is legitimate and serving the public interest (Karp 1998). This results in a distance occurring between the offender and the lawful parts of society, to the degree they might be physically banished (Karp 1998). It is this style of shaming that was previously mentioned as representing a risk of producing an oppositional culture, which “systematizes criminality” (Karp 1998: 285). Obviously this shows disintegrative shaming in a negative light.
In contrast, the reintegrative method of shaming clearly delineates between the actor and the deed, so that while the act is condemned, the offender is not (Karp 1998). The offender is not made into a separate person from the community, but is instead as seen as part of it, along with their denouncer and the victim (Karp 1998). Finally, the offender expresses remorse and vows reparation, achieving reconciliation by fully rejoining the community (Karp 1998). This type of shaming, in contrast with the disintegrative model, has the distinct advantage of not alienating the offender and hardening them into an oppositional stance. Instead, in keeping with the model's theme, the offender is presented with “the shame of the people they most care about” (Morris 2002:163), a powerful deterrent, but are then safely brought back into the fold. This direct comparison has clearly shown that the reintegrative model is the preferable shaming technique in order to maximize both personal and society-wide benefit.
In summation, this paper has discussed stigma and seen its application in specific case studies, and the way people resist labels or use them to their advantage. It was shown how scarlet letter shaming processes occur, with attention paid to criticisms from theorists. This disintegrative model was then contrasted with the less popular reintegrative model, and the latter was shown to be more beneficial. It is therefore the finding of this paper that the reintegrative model has a place in the judiciary system, and should be promoted at the expense of its dangerous, disintegrative twin.
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