Emotions are a central but under-appreciated element of historical-structural injustices and the potential and limits of modern-day responses such as transitional justice. Dealing with the past gives us the opportunity to address not only what we think but also what we feel about past violence. In this context, emotions function as a mechanism by which states and churches allow victim-survivors to exercise agency within the structure of legal and political institutions and within particular national emotional climates. Within these structures, emotions operate to provide the symbolic and public means by which the states and churches themselves seek to respond in kind in addressing their legacies of gross violations of human rights. In doing so, transitional justice can affirm or rework national and religious myths as sites of practical knowledge and felt experiences. An effective use of emotions in myths can challenge purely triumphalist conceptions of the nation or religion and replace them with more mature accounts that recognise the fallibility of state and churches. In doing so public emotions can articulate our shared responsibility for addressing the way in which our contemporary societies are structured by the reproduction of historical-structural injustices. This chapter will briefly frame existing debates in a growing literature on emotion and affect before identifying the relationship between emotions and transitional justice, historical-structural injustice, and power. The chapter will then argue that public emotions, including the emotional content of statements by political and religious leaders, are a key means by which these institutions construct responses to historical abuses. A final section problematises the role of shame as a public emotion and suggests the need for alternatives.
5.2 Conceptualising Emotions and Affect
Emotions have been historically neglected in the social sciences and overly contrasted with the study of rationality.Footnote 1 Such a distinction is not apoliticalFootnote 2 but instead maps onto structures of patriarchy, whereby maleness was historically equated with rationality and women, femininity, and emotions were deemed irrational.Footnote 3 In addition, Susan Leigh Foster argues that early thinking on emotions must be situated ‘within the context of Britain’s discovery of the new world and subsequent colonial expansion’.Footnote 4 She criticises the work of Adam Smith and David Hume on sympathy and empathy, as depending on pernicious distinctions of nation and race, as well as those of gender and class.Footnote 5 Today, scholarship recognises that emotions are not additional to reason and rationality but that emotions are essential to rational thought.Footnote 6
Within recent emotions literature, there is a distinction between emotions and affect. A variety of approaches have been taken to defining these terms across disciplines in the humanities and sciences, principally psychology.Footnote 7 For Paul Hoggett and Simon Thompson, for instance, ‘Affect concerns the more embodied, unformed and less conscious dimension of human feeling, whereas emotion concerns the feelings which are more conscious since they are more anchored in language and meaning’.Footnote 8 Anne-Marie D’Aoust cautions that we need to be wary of drawing too sharp a distinction between emotions and affect, claiming that a focus on this distinction may have the unintended consequence of dividing examination of expression of emotions to social sciences, while leaving study of the body to neurosciences.Footnote 9
A second point of contention is whether emotions and affect are universal in nature or whether they are socially conditioned and constructed. Literature within the critical and feminist traditions suggests that emotions are shaped by geo-political forces, such as power.Footnote 10 Monique Scheer emphasises that emotions are not universal traits of personality but rather depend upon culturally specific socialisation.Footnote 11 Goodwin et al concur that emotions are all politically, historically, and culturally constructed, with the emotions most relevant to politics more likely to be constructed, such as rage, shame, or indignation regarding identity and rights, and are all ‘culturally and historically variable’.Footnote 12
A third area of disagreement in the literature is whether and how emotions can be meaningfully ascribed to groups, such as institutions, states, and churches, as well as across members of social groups along racial, gender, or religious lines.Footnote 13 For instance, Brandon Hamber and Richard Wilson argue that nations are not like individuals, lack collective psyches, and that individual and collective processes of healing work on different timelines.Footnote 14 John Protevi distinguishes between ‘emergentist and individualist perspectives on the subject. The emergentists posit a collective subject underlying collective emotions, while the individualists claim that collective emotions are simply the alignment or coordination of individual emotions’.Footnote 15
Finally, there is growing recognition of the inherent relationship between law and emotion.Footnote 16 Terry Maroney notes that recent scholarship recognises ‘law as a flexible, context-driven mechanism for reflecting, managing, nurturing, or (dis)incentivizing specific emotions in specific situations for specific purposes’.Footnote 17 Scholarship in this area recognises a bi-directional relationship – that law and emotion may each shape and effect one another.Footnote 18 However, Bandes et al suggest that it remains the case that the structure of legal systems views emotions negatively, signalling prejudice, irrelevance or lack of reason and functions ‘as a way to exclude evidence, discredit witnesses, and otherwise impose legal consequences’, particularly in cases of individuals with traditionally marginalised status – women, people of colour, and individuals lacking social, economic, educational, or political capital.Footnote 19
In the context of these ongoing debates, this chapter will examine the extent to which emotions are involved in transitional justice, power, and examine the social and public use of emotions in responding to historical abuses. The public use of emotion will examine the social construction of emotions, and subsequent chapters will consider both the emotional lived experiences of victim-survivors of transitional justice mechanisms and the explicit and political use of emotions by those mechanisms and the states and churches they concern.
5.3 Emotions and Power
Understanding emotions and affect is a necessary but neglected part of addressing the role of power in historical-structural abuses. Luna Dolezal notes that ‘Foucault offers little insight into how a subject feels and experiences power structures’.Footnote 20 Jonathan Heaney suggests that emotions and power are ‘conceptual twins, both of which are essential to any understanding of social and political life’.Footnote 21 Heaney suggests limited consideration of emotion is particularly pronounced regarding theories of power, concluding ‘emotion operated as an “epistemological other” and like other “others”, was to be controlled, ignored or banished’.Footnote 22 He suggests instead that affect and power are intimately linked: ‘Affect is the effect of relations of power’.Footnote 23 Lauren Guilmette argues, ‘Networks of power sort, define, modify, and normalize the affective responses of their subjects through disciplinary institutions; yet affect also exceeds this range, opening space for resistance when one feels ill at ease with relational and/or institutional arrangements’.Footnote 24 D’Aoust concurs: ‘Because bodies are always situated, sexualised and racialised, they do not feel the same way – to ourselves, but also to others … emotions cannot be uncoupled from relations of power that characterise and permeate the social field.’Footnote 25 As a result, a key challenge in considering the relationship between emotions and power is recognition of how power may shape the feeling rules across diverse intersectional forms of identity.Footnote 26
This potential role of emotions can be assessed across the four faces/dimensions of power: agency, structure, epistemic, and ontological, each considered in detail below. Emotions will be experienced in the individual interactions in the agency dimension of power, between individual victim-survivor and perpetrator, or later between a survivor and the state or church seeking to address the past, in particular through transitional justice mechanisms examined in the next section. Second, emotions will be engaged by the experience of structural biases and structural injustices in the second dimension of power, whereby existing structural biases or injustices may minimise, exclude, or discriminate against women, children, Indigenous peoples, African Americans, or victim-survivors more broadly.
Third, epistemic injustice and the experience of not being heard or listened to can both silence the emotions as lived experience of survivors and prompt emotional responses, including trauma responses. Maroney is concerned about how law treats emotions in this dimension: ‘Emotion-relevant legal questions often fall into an epistemological blank space. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. It is unacceptable, first, because it destabilizes law: when the bases upon which law is made are idiosyncratic, so too is the law itself. This state of affairs also is unacceptable because, in many instances, stable bases for emotional assessment exist. Finally, where no such bases exist, emotional assessment should be openly acknowledged as an expression of one’s beliefs and values, not passed off as simple truth’.Footnote 27 Finally, emotions have an ontological dimension in their relationship to power where the expression of particular emotions may be state based, with a particular emphasis at the end of this chapter on the risks associated with public expressions of shame. For Ben Anderson, ‘attending to the dynamics of affective life may become political when brought into contact with forms of biopower that, in different ways, normalise life’.Footnote 28
5.3.1 Emotions, Agency, and Transitional Justice
Emotions play a significant role in the commission of human rights violations in a variety of ways, shaping not only individual acts of violence but also the very structures and ideologies of gross human rights violations.Footnote 29 First, historical abuses can be explained in part as having emotional dimensions to their causes. Existing literature on the concept and sociology of emotions argues that shame is the master emotion and is at the root of all acts of violence – in particular, the shame of being ashamed may lead to acts of rage, anger, and violence to deny this experience of shame.Footnote 30 When fear drives people to blame others who are not actually responsible, we can call it scapegoating.Footnote 31
Second, historical abuses, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, physical and sexual violence, and the damage to families and culture all foreseeably generate a range of intense emotional responses.Footnote 32 Rage, grief, loss, shame, and disgust are among the predictable and documented responses to these events among victim-survivors, their families, and wider communities who become aware of or acknowledge these events.Footnote 33 A victim-survivor-centred approach suggests a plurality of experiences and emotions should be anticipated and welcomed. Macalester Bell suggests: ‘as victims of wrongdoing … we should be careful to articulate to ourselves and to others precisely what attitudes and emotions we experience’.Footnote 34 McAlinden notes that cases of child abuse in particular often provoke significant public responses of anger, leading to the ‘othering’ of sex offenders.Footnote 35 She notes that where such emotional responses provide the basis for subsequent legislation or other responses to abuse, these responses may ‘tend to inflate embedded levels of societal suspicion, mistrust and intolerance concerning potential sex offenders, and create indiscriminate strategies which “cast the net of suspicion on all”’.Footnote 36 Historical-structural injustices are often causes or contributing factors to survivors’ experiences of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which in turn ‘is often associated with a wide range of trauma-related aversive emotions such as fear, disgust, sadness, shame, guilt, and anger’.Footnote 37
Third, emotions are a central feature of transitional justice measures in dealing with the past. Transitional justice can involve several emotions among victims and survivors directed at the leaders, perpetrators, and collaborators involved in the commission of harms.Footnote 38 Winter notes: ‘affective questions of emotion and intent are central to personal redress ethics’.Footnote 39 Kamari Maxine Clarke argues that international human rights and transitional justice use law in a particular manner to encapsulate emotion: ‘Law garners its authority through emotional affects that produce various forms of encapsulation, and through this process power is made real through various emotive appeals’.Footnote 40 Clarke suggests ‘as feelings of political actors are projected onto sites of legal action, those actors jockey for power to establish the core assumptions that underlie beliefs about why something like violence erupts or how it should be mitigated’.Footnote 41
Truth and reconciliation commissions are understood as being a central forum for the provision of testimony by victim-survivors. Such testimony can often involve intensely emotional accounts of the experiences of harm, grief, and suffering endured by victim-survivors. Since the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there have been assessments of the claim that the disclosure of such experiences and testimony can have a healing and cathartic effect on survivors.Footnote 42 Studies call this claim into question and suggest that such commissions may have therapeutic value for only some survivors and in some contextsFootnote 43 or worse may be re-traumatising, or the value may dissipate over time.Footnote 44 Chapter 6 will explore the existing studies on the emotional impact of public inquiries like truth commissions on victim-survivors of historical-structural abuses.
Accountability mechanisms such as criminal and civil trials shape the role of emotions. The provision of testimony regarding past violence and suffering is subjected to rules of procedure and legal examination by professionals, in a manner which can formalise the experience of survivors and alienate them from their role within a trial process.Footnote 45 This will be explored further in Chapter 7. In addition, this formalisation of emotional experiences is shared with engagement with reparations mechanisms, explored in Chapter 8. Although in transitional justice theory reparations are designed to provide acknowledgement to victim-survivors of their suffering, this approach tends to focus on the status of survivors as rights holders, as civic agents, rather than as individuals with particular lived experiences, including emotional experiences. Finally, emotions play a significant role in the processes of apology and reconciliation, examined in Chapters 9 and 10.
Across these institutional settings, the emotions involved in historical abuses and transitional justice likely intersect with experiences of trauma and PTSD.Footnote 46 Susanne Karstedt notes that ‘when listeners are confronted with such extreme trauma, atrocious events, or severe illness, they react with less empathy and even attempt to constrain the victim in the expression of emotions. Bystanders and nonvictims severely underestimate the victim’s situation, react with anxiety, and respond with simplistic interventions that cannot do justice to the complex consequences of the negative emotional experience’.Footnote 47 As a result of these complexities and the shaping of emotion by particular institutional contexts, there is no way to assume that a ‘single-shot expression of emotions’ in transitional justice processes can contribute to the diminishing of emotional trauma.Footnote 48 As a result, emotions are relevant to transitional justice in addressing the past not only at an individual level for victim-survivors, perpetrators, and legal officials but also at a society-wide level through the emotional impacts of truth commissions processes and findings, the theatre and outcome of criminal and civil trials, and the performative effect and consequences of public state and church apologies.Footnote 49 Significant empirical work with survivors’ experience in and around transitional justice mechanisms related to historical abuses is therefore warranted to validate claims that such processes offer healing, catharsis, or otherwise address emotions. Without it, at best we may conclude that at present transitional justice creates an ambivalent experience for the emotions of victim-survivors.
5.3.2 Emotions and Historical-Structural Injustices
In addition to this first, interactive dimension of power and emotion in transitional justice institutions, how emotions interact with these institutions will be shaped by the second dimension of power involving structures and historical-structural injustice. As structures and practices of power seek to control bodies, they also seek to control and shape socially appropriate emotions.Footnote 50 Jon Elster writes, culture ‘acts as a modifier – whether as amplifier or as brake – of the emotions’.Footnote 51 Emotional structures can influence normatively and socially desirable emotions. For William Reddy, an emotional regime is a ‘set of normative emotions and the official rituals, practices, and emotions that express and inculcate them’, and they are a ‘necessary underpinning of any stable political regime’.Footnote 52 For Barbara Rosenwein and Riccardo Cristiani, an ‘emotional community’ is a group that adheres to the same valuations of emotions and how they should be expressed, and thus constitutes a community of emotional styles and norms.Footnote 53 Jonathan Heaney argues that the political and social use of emotions can construct an emotional state, referring to ‘the various ways in which the nation-state has been directly and indirectly involved in the construction and deconstruction of the emotional life of the polity; the degree to which it reflects (and constructs) dominant emotional regime(s) and norms; and how these processes change through time’.Footnote 54 Deborah Gould has suggested the concept of ‘emotional habitus’, being the epistemic knowledge and dispositions of a group that, if only partially consciously, form how a group engages with emotions.Footnote 55 Flam suggests that the prevailing emotional regimes within societies, and their corresponding ‘feeling rules’ are both defined by power holders within those societies (asymmetrically, to their advantage) and are an expression and symbol of their power.Footnote 56
The individual experience of emotion in transitional justice processes is thus inexorably linked to and mediated by the macro-context of normative emotional culture.Footnote 57 For Mihai, ‘taking the past seriously and engaging publicly with citizens’ politically relevant emotional responses represents a first opportunity for institutions to embark on a process of democratic emotional socialisation’.Footnote 58 As a result, she suggests institutions should strive for clear, exemplary decisions to ‘stimulate reflection’ on what democratically appropriate emotions should look like, through a justification and explanation of what commitment to constitutional democracy requires. Exemplary practices are those that ‘reflect citizens’ legitimate negative emotions and filter their expression through democratic values’.Footnote 59 Naomi Head has recently argued that the use of emotions in political rhetoric ‘does not necessarily lead to the acknowledgement of political responsibility or to actions to address the historically-constituted roots of contemporary structural injustices’.Footnote 60 Head suggests: ‘While a sentimental politics is likely to signal alignment with a certain set of moral values, thereby simulating a desire for justice, it nonetheless lacks a sustained political commitment and evades questions of political responsibility for suffering embedded in historically constituted global structural injustices’.Footnote 61 Head notes the role of emotion in political rhetoric as a potential vehicle to legitimise existing power structures and to include some and exclude others from the use of ‘care, concern, and responsibility’ in sentimental politics.Footnote 62
In particular, emotions play a role in providing narrative and normative content for national myths. Emotions are a key part of myths.Footnote 63 Bouchard notes: ‘a well-established myth is characterized (and conditioned) by being primarily emotion-driven, which helps us understand the liberties it can take with reality and the resilience it can show when it faces contradictions’.Footnote 64 Richard Rorty writes ‘stories about what a nation has been and should try to be are not attempts at accurate representation, but rather attempts to forge a moral identity’.Footnote 65 Public emotions include those articulated by public figures, in this context including political and church leadership and representatives of victim-survivor communities. Martha Nussbaum argues, ‘Good public emotions do embody general principles, but they clothe them in the garb of concrete narrative history’.Footnote 66 National and religious myths depend less upon the mere act of incorporation of emotions relevant to historical abuses but rather seek to incorporate or exclude those emotions to the extent that they enable a constructive account of the state or church as a moral and political community. The honest reckoning with the emotions produced by historical abuses and reproduced in attempts to deal with the past is likely to produce a social ambivalence regarding an exclusively positive or unifying national or religious narrative or myth.Footnote 67 States and churches already employ emotions to advance their own nation-building and myth making, in their advancement of collective memory or the ‘imagined communities’ such as the nation,Footnote 68 in pursuit and production of ‘profound emotional legitimacy’ through political rituals like parades and public holidays.Footnote 69 For instance, in Ireland, Tom Inglis demonstrated, the main work of national habitus formation in the Irish context was ‘outsourced’ to the Catholic Church, which controlled the fields of education and health, who held a ‘moral monopoly’ over society.Footnote 70 Jonathan Heaney writes:
in the early decades of the 20th century we see a concerted construction of national habitus via a unified nationalist and religious narrative, orchestrated by the two main power blocs in that society, church and state, and reinforced on the ground via powerful nationalist and religious networks. This relational setting was repressive and conservative, giving rise to an ‘emotional climate’ characterized by guilt, shame and fear; a repressive emotional and sexual code. Yet, it also produced high levels of solidarity and social cohesion, and a national habitus in which identification with, and ‘love for’ the nation was central to individual’s conception of selfhood and personal ‘identity’.Footnote 71
A variety of factors may impact the nature and extent of the emotional dimensions within public accounts of addressing the past. Clarke notes that the feelings of individuals and groups may align or contrast with dominant emotional regimes: ‘Feelings operate through agencies that are embedded in particular historical inscriptions and are part of itinerant responses that are often collective but never fully predictable; they may or may not align with the emotional climate being produced by justice campaigns’.Footnote 72 Pennebaker et al suggest: ‘The degree of social sharing within a country about a nations unwanted past can be related to a positive emotional climate if open discussions are encouraged or negative emotional climate if repressive governmental forces are at play.’Footnote 73 In creating or maintaining structures, Hoggett and Thompson note that states use emotions in the processes of governance and policy making through a variety of techniques: ‘projection, where a government colludes with powerful anxieties by focusing them upon a particular target group which becomes construed as a social problem. Enactment occurs when a government, faced with a panic of some form, succumbs to the intense pressure to be seen to be doing something’.Footnote 74 Finally, they suggest states and their institutions may embody emotions through their existing rules, systems, structures, and procedures.Footnote 75
For Naomi Head, state apologies and reconciliation may involve mere performances of empathy that evade political responsibility or may involve a more genuine process of testimonial empathy: ‘the acknowledgement of injustice and its historical and structural dimensions, subjective shifts of understanding, and collective political action.’Footnote 76 On Head’s account, the focus in assessing whether an apology is mere performance or not requires attending to the affective dynamics of the narrative created. She is concerned that such narratives may provide some actors nothing more than a ‘vicarious sensory experience that does little to alter their own sense of privilege’.Footnote 77 For Head, a politics of pity is where the ‘asymmetry between the spectator and the sufferer is maintained – often through the over-identification and imagined comprehension enabled through sentiment – ensuring that no radical reflexivity turns our gaze towards our entanglements in the creation and perpetuation of vulnerabilities and injustice’.Footnote 78 In contrast, compassion requires recognising the connection ‘between the personal and the political and … entails the political recognition that while we are all vulnerable we are not so in the same way or to the same degree’.Footnote 79 The structure of public emotions thus forms a crucial platform for the reception and discourse regarding appropriate emotional responses to historical-structural injustices.
5.3.3 Emotions and Epistemic Injustice
The emotions of victim-survivors may be subjected to epistemic injustice,Footnote 80 that is, the state and church mechanisms for addressing the past may be unable or unwilling to meaningfully listen to or hear survivor emotions – or a specific subset of their emotions. In doing so, transitional justice mechanisms may construct ‘ideal type’ survivors, who speak and act in an emotional register that confirms existing structures of power. Those who express challenging emotions, such as rage,Footnote 81 or become emotional at issues that stretch beyond the endorsed paradigms of addressing the past, those who claim that Indigenous recognition is insufficient and decolonisation is required, for instance, may be excluded. More broadly, epistemic injustice regarding historical-structural injustices is likely to map on to existing forms of such injustice in the racialised and gendered recognition of emotion within legal processes.Footnote 82
In contrast, where expressions of victimhood are repressed, this may have the unintended consequence of consolidating collective memories associated with the repressed event.Footnote 83 For Head, engagement with the emotional experiences of others can ‘disrupt our epistemic comfort and render visible dynamics and hierarchies hitherto unaccounted for by the powerful and unaccountable to the oppressed’.Footnote 84 In this regard, Head emphasises the emotional dimension to the distinction between knowledge and acknowledgement, familiar to transitional justice:
Knowledge, for testimonial empathy, requires listening without presuming a complete or full understanding of the other. It does not seek to master the narrative or knowledge of the other, to subsume it within a pre-established hierarchy of ideas, values, and beliefs, or to reduce the other to fit our own limited imaginations or perspectives. To do so would be to conflate empathy with a strategy of knowing intended to perpetuate, rather than disrupt, the existing structures of injustice.Footnote 85
Finally, Head emphasises the risks of passive empathy, which could function as ‘an “epistemology of ignorance” (of not knowing, or of not wanting to know)’.Footnote 86 Instead Head calls for “radical reflexivity and epistemic humility that is self-critical rather than self-referential in its interrogation of position, privilege, and power’.Footnote 87 The task of genuinely listening to and hearing the emotions of victim-survivors remains a key challenge for the staff of transitional justice mechanisms and representatives of state and church.
5.3.4 Emotions and Constitutive Forms of Power
Finally, emotions may play a role in the fourth constitutive form of power. The classification by society as ‘black’, ‘Indigenous’, ‘poor’, or ‘victim’ may result not only in significant disempowerment, discrimination, and harm but also with a set of social norms and messaging that it is shameful to belong to these categories of inferiority. For historically marginalised groups, group identity and experience may confirm the emotional dimensions of a particular social identity, that is, feelings of shame or inferiority in individuals who belong to groups that have been both historically and currently marginalised. For instance, William Reddy argues that in situations of conquest or colonisation, where a normative emotional management strategy is imposed on a population, ‘emotional suffering becomes epidemic’.Footnote 88
Second, emotions can play a key part in the constitution and politics of victimhood. Judith Shklar insists that victimhood ‘has an irreducibly subjective component that the normal model of justice cannot easily absorb’.Footnote 89 Antti Malinen argues that for care leavers seeking justice for acts of historical abuses, being ‘part of this emotional community opened up opportunities for empowerment through sharing and the validation of experiences’.Footnote 90 For Mihai, ‘until we understand the role played by affective investment in collective identification and mobilization, we will not be in a position to understand the emergence and resilience of non-democratic collective identities: racism, xenophobia, explosive nationalism and religious intolerance’.Footnote 91 Janine Natalya Clark argues that in transitional justice to date ‘the neglect of emotional legacies represents a missed opportunity to explore how the meta emotions that people share – and which form part of “a social ontology of connection” – constitute potential new bases for building reconciliation in post-conflict societies’.Footnote 92 Subsequent chapters will examine how states employ and perform emotions through the specific institutions of transitional justice (investigations, trials, redress, and apologies) and enable the consolidation of their power and legitimacy. In particular, subsequent chapters will explore whether framing the past in terms of gross violations of human rights, institutional responses to such violations, and in terms of transitional justice ‘inevitably distorts the historical “reality” of collective mass atrocities and the victims’ remembered experiences of it’.Footnote 93
5.4 Historical-Structural Injustices and Shame
Shame is an emotion which features both as a dimension of historical abuse and as an element of modern-day responses to such harms. There is a significant literature on shame across disciplines.Footnote 94 Kizuk notes: ‘guilt is about a failure of doing whereas shame is about a failure of being. Unlike guilt, which focuses on failing to live up to a norm or breaking a rule, shame is often taken to be a response to a global failure of the self. This is because shame is, in structure, ontological rather than action-based – it is tied to our identity’.Footnote 95
Nussbaum argues that shame ‘is a painful emotion responding to a sense of failure to attain some ideal state’ and involves not only the realisation but also the denial that one is ‘weak and inadequate in some way in which one expects oneself to be adequate.’Footnote 96 For Nussbaum, only shame of a specific and limited sort can be constructive. It is possible to invite others to feel shame in non-insulting, non-humiliating, and non-coercive ways,Footnote 97 but it seems necessary for such attempts at constructive shaming to be founded on mutual respect. In contrast, ‘shame punishments, historically, are ways of marking a person, often for life, with a degraded identity.’Footnote 98 As a result, Nussbaum concludes that society’s shaming behaviour is not to be easily trusted.Footnote 99
Luna Dolezal concurs that ‘shame is an emotion which is experienced by a subject when his or her perceived shortcomings or failings are observed by another’.Footnote 100 For Dolezal, shame is both embodied and social.Footnote 101 She notes the fact that shame is ‘constitutive and necessary’, particularly as a motivation of skill formation.Footnote 102 She usefully distinguishes between acute and chronic body shame, which ‘arises because of more ongoing or permanent aspects of one’s appearance or body, such as one’s weight, height or skin colour. It can also arise because of some stigma or deformity, such as a scar or disability … Shame, in this case, is not experienced as an acute disruption to one’s situation, but rather as a background of pain and self-consciousness, becoming more acute perhaps in moments of exposure or self-reference’.Footnote 103
Shame is a feature of historical abuse that pervades several of the societies examined in this book. Relying on testimony in empirical work is ‘particularly difficult’ when dealing with shame and embarrassment as it is often bypassed or repressed.Footnote 104 Across the ninety inquiries discussed in Chapter 6, there are at least 1,090 references to shame. Persistent shame may explain failures to process child sexual abuse or PTSD.Footnote 105 For instance, Swain and Howe note the role of shame in Australian maternity homes, referencing a 1908 Charity Review article describing them as a place where, for mothers, ‘their shame can be hidden and where they can live until their infants can do without their care’.Footnote 106 Similarly, in twentieth-century Ireland, chronic shame was a persistent feature of the Catholic faith and reinforced in both religious rituals such as confession and through Irish families, schools, and communities, with particular emphasis on women and children.Footnote 107
McAlinden notes that a politics of shame was integral to both Irish national and religious identity and that this identity was bolstered by bystanders in Irish families and institutions who failed to challenge the status quo, with the result that victim-survivors were silenced for decades.Footnote 108 Shame in Ireland attached in particularly gendered terms, targeting unmarried mothers and those who transgressed or were perceived to transgress other Catholic sexual norms.Footnote 109 In the context of the Magdalene Laundries, oral histories given by victim-survivors reveal ‘women were conceptualised as mud and rubbish to be disposed of, as inexpensive goods for sale or as natural forces that were out of control. In that blinkered society they epitomised the worst side of illness and disability’.Footnote 110
The religious nature of the institutions involved and the actors engaged in historical abuse raises the possibility of a particularly religious experience of shame, what some have dubbed sacramental shame: ‘People often dispense this shame believing it will help their loved ones to conform to God’s will and to spend eternity in heaven’.Footnote 111 As with the full range of emotions, shame can be analysed across the four forms of power developed in Chapter 4.
5.4.1 Shame and Agency
As seen above, survivor shame forms a pervasive reaction to the experience of historical-structural injustices. Shame retains the potential to form an element of responding to historical abuse. Shame is an emotion that can be deployed in a single interaction between victim-survivor and perpetrator. On this approach, shaming is reintegrative when it reinforces an offender’s membership in civil society.Footnote 112 Restorative justice literature suggests two elements to reintegrative shaming: (1) the explicit disapproval of the wrongful act (shaming) by respected others; and (2) the ongoing inclusion of the offender within a meaningful relationship (reintegration).Footnote 113 McAlinden notes the potential of reintegrative shaming to address child sexual abuse, by aiming ‘to engage local communities in the management and reintegration of sex offenders and to directly address wider concerns about the presence of released sex offenders in the local community’.Footnote 114 As a result, if shame is to play constructive role in addressing historical-structural injustices, its potential is likely to be at the interpersonal level.
5.4.2 Shame and Structure
Second, shame is a key part of the emotional state or structure regarding social norms. John Elster concurs that shame is the most crucial emotion to the maintenance and enforcement of social norms.Footnote 115 Shame not only operates in individual experiences and social interactions but also ‘plays a key normative and constitutive role in embodied, intersubjective and socio-political relations’.Footnote 116 Thomas Scheff and Suzanne Retzinger note that shame operates between individual emotional experience and the broader social structure of society.Footnote 117 In particular, they note that shame is closely linked to anger-rage, which often can lead to violence or aggression and serve as a destructive social force.
In this context, shame may form a central part of historical-structural injustices for historically marginalised groups. Luna Dolezal notes that ‘the propensity to shame, and its consequences, is very much dependent on one’s position within a social group’.Footnote 118 She notes: ‘shame is deployed as a strategy of social exclusion, as a means to oppress a particular social group, this shame is often invisible, unacknowledged or individually and collectively bypassed’.Footnote 119 Dolezal thus emphasises that the structure of shame may not align with the emotional experience of it (or lack thereof).Footnote 120 Instead, the structure of shame may manifest as a lack of self and/or social recognition of equal status and worth.Footnote 121 This form of shame does not attach merely to individuals but entire social groups and can be inherited and transmitted from one generation to the next, a permanent part of both individual and group identities.Footnote 122 Such structural forms of shame attach to historically marginalised groups and peoples, including Indigenous peoples, people of colour, women, and children, and form an inescapable form of shame that becomes part of social identity.Footnote 123 The results of such forms of shame are to reenforce a subjective experience of inferiority, which can lead to damaging emotional and cognitive outcomes and ‘a state of profound disempowerment’.Footnote 124 Shame appears a particularly pernicious emotion when operating at the level of social, political and religious structures.
5.4.3 Shame and Epistemic Injustice
Third, shame can be deployed as a form of epistemic injustice. Cheshire Calhoun notes, ‘the power to shame is likely to be concentrated in the hands of those whose interpretations are socially authoritative’.Footnote 125 Cecilia Mun suggests that ‘standard accounts of shame, understood as espousing feeling rules for shame (including shaming, being shamed, and experiences of shame), are mechanisms for the practice of systemic testimonial injustices at the social‐practical level of analysis’.Footnote 126 For example, Mun suggests practices of gaslighting or micro-aggressions reflect this use of shame.Footnote 127 To counter this, Enright and Ring suggest that epistemic justice requires ‘the ashamed state to engage in a risky exposure to victim-survivors’ testimony and to the possibility that doing so may transform the state and its law’.Footnote 128
5.4.4 Shame and Ontological Power
Finally, shame can form part of the constitutive use of biopower. Nations can shame others and can bring shame upon themselves by recognising and acknowledging the way they have ‘treated others who were in the past understood as the origin of shame’.Footnote 129
Although body shame is fundamental to one’s embodied subjectivity and social identity,Footnote 130 Dolezal emphasises that chronic body shame is also deeply involved in the constitutive use of power. This is particularly evident in Elias’ account of the civilisation process. Dolezal argues, ‘Although Foucault does not explicitly discuss shame in his analysis of discipline and embodiment, key to his theory are several features of the shame experience, such as objectification, alienation, internalization, and normalization’.Footnote 131 In contrast, Dolezal argues that for Norbert Elias: ‘the civilizing process is driven by a deeper desire to avoid social exclusion and shame in order to secure and maintain social standing’.Footnote 132 Dolezal continues that for Elias: ‘as bodies became the primary site of social worth and estimation, central to the social value system, fear of social degradation and the loss of social standing make it increasingly imperative for individuals to regulate and manage the body. Avoiding social exclusion and accruing body capital are central concerns for the subject, and these concerns are inextricably linked to the experience of body shame’.Footnote 133
In contrast, Deigh suggests that shame may be productive where it reaffirms a commitment and failure to live up to the ideals of liberal democratic institutions.Footnote 134 Lisa Guenther distinguishes between shame as ‘a feeling of collective ethical responsibility, and humiliation as an instrument of political domination’.Footnote 135 Sara Ahmed examines how apologies involving shame can function as nation-building, in which ‘what is shameful about the past is covered over by the statement of shame itself’. On her account, shame may be restorative ‘only when the shamed other can “show” that its failure to measure up to a social ideal is temporary’.Footnote 136
To date this constitutive use of shame has failed to achieve this restorative function in the context of addressing historical-structural injustices. Clara Fischer notes that ‘Irish nationbuilding engages a politics of shame that operates both via the construction of shamed, deviant Others hidden away in Ireland’s network of institutions and via the shame brought onto itself precisely through the maltreatment meted out to those deemed deviant Others. The Irish nation thus reproduces itself in this paradoxical, circular manner, as it draws on shame’s capacity to bind people in the creation of national collectivities through the establishment of “insiders” and “outsiders” or through the assumption of collective or supra-individual failings that make us feel shame as (the) people of Ireland’.Footnote 137 Máiréad Enright and Sinéad Ring borrow from the work of Giorgio Agamben, and ‘understand true shame as an experience of the collapse of the sovereign self. When speaking about historical institutional abuse, state actors have positioned the Irish state as ashamed of its past. On their view, state shame as performed in statements of this kind entails no loss of sovereignty. Rather, the post-authoritarian Irish state’s identification with shame has run alongside new, intensely productive politics of nation-building reinforcing state sovereignty and inaugurating new techniques of government’.Footnote 138
McKenzie et al note the application of shame to Australia at the level of a national myth: ‘there has been extensive discussion of collective shame regarding, for example, Australia’s violent history of colonisation; its present-day treatment of Indigenous people (e.g., the stigmatising and divisive Northern Territory Intervention) and the mandatory, prolonged detention of asylum seekers in harsh conditions. In these cases, shame is not being applied to a person by a community, although activists in these areas have often used the language of shame in their indictments of political leaders. Shame is primarily applied to the nation and its government by a section of its own citizenry. Shame is seen as evidence of both moral conscience and moral failure – the moral conscience of part of the nation directed at the government and the moral failings of other citizens in that same nation. These calls for communal shame are thus not only calls for accountability and reparatory action, but a contestation of the moral fabric of the nation’.Footnote 139 Sara Ahmed argues these performances separate shame from victim-survivors’ experiences, shifting shame from a personal and individual matter to one of national identity that the state alone deems it is capable to address.Footnote 140
In Canada, Sarah Kizuk argues that ‘a politics of recognition informed by settler shame has done little to actually see or hear Indigenous peoples on their own terms. Since settler shame is a self-directed emotion that seeks to be discharged through reconciliatory processes that are dependent on liberal recognition, it remains a mere optics of justice wedded to settler ignorance’.Footnote 141 She defines settler shame: ‘to be a personal experience related to the recognition of our identity as complicit in a racist and colonial world (being bad), as well as the concomitant realization that we might lose control over our identity and become defined solely as this bad self both by ourselves but also by our social world at large. Settler shame causes anxiety and is profoundly painful precisely because we do not want to jeopardize our social standing or lose the ability to self-define’.Footnote 142
Denise Starkey notes the theological dimensions of shame, especially within the Roman Catholic tradition, cautioning: ‘Theologies that do not address the different subject positions of perpetrators and victims, nor account for the dynamics of power and the absence of freedom of survivors cannot be said to ensure liberation. Shame must be “unmasked” in order to “derail” the shattering effects that lead to survivors being held accountable for the harm done to them while many perpetrators continue to evade responsibility’.Footnote 143 Thomas Scheff notes: ‘Denial of shame goes hand in hand with denial of interdependence. An accurate and effective social science requires that shame and interdependence be brought into the light of day’.Footnote 144
5.5 The Danger of Shame and Historical-Structural Injustices
There is thus significant potential for shame to feature in the emotional and affective dimensions of addressing historical abuses. To the extent that it is turned to the purposes of nation-building and at the expense of the preferences of victim-survivors, such shame rhetoric and practices may risk further distress, re-traumatisation or alienation from society. Krista Thomason notes: ‘When we shame, we attempt to define another person’s identity in social life, but this is an illegitimate exercise of power over another moral agent. In shaming, we take ourselves to be moral educators who are immune to the flaws that we point out in others.’Footnote 145 Ahmed notes: ‘The politics of shame is contradictory. It exposes the nation, and what it has covered over and covered up in its pride in itself, but at the same time it involves a narrative of recovery as the re-covering of the nation’.Footnote 146 In their response to historical abuse, states and churches may continue to shame victim-survivors in their treatment in inquiries, prosecutions, or redress mechanisms. Fischer notes: ‘Productive shame, and its potential for change, is thus subverted, as the continuous project of nationbuilding, in its desire for pride, renders productive shame impossible, as the performance of the gendered politics of shame continues to establish and then cover deviant Others as instances of national shame’.Footnote 147 Instead, Ahmed notes, ‘The fear of being seen as “like them” structures this shame narrative’.Footnote 148 Kizuk concurs: ‘Rather than operating as an affective transformative experience, settler shame leads to a collapse back into a remaking of settler identity. In other words, the responsibility becomes a responsibility to fix the image of the settler rather than repair the damaged relationship with Indigenous peoples. This is because we, as settlers, want to stop feeling bad so we take steps to discharge our shame in such a way that does not challenge the material conditions that have created and maintain racist and colonial injustice. Our individual (and national) efforts to resolve the experience of shame have taken place through the recognition of our shame experience: it is self-referential. To flee this shameful identity becomes, then, a project to restore our identity as superior’.Footnote 149
Enright and Ring suggest that despite its misuse by states, shame retains radical potential because it is destabilising and can awaken a community to knowledge of past wrongdoing and prompts a duty to bear witness and make space for the wrongs done to others: ‘Epistemic justice is incompatible with mere professions of shame unaccompanied by any radical change in the state’s normal legal practices’. They suggest, ‘Embracing shame as a mode of doing justice to the past in Ireland must mean decentering and reconfiguring established state attitudes to law, allowing new epistemic frames for the voicing and witnessing of traumatic experiences of historical institutional abuse to emerge. This is a process of anxious struggle, far removed from the comforts of the old sovereignty; the state must risk established practice and “act, without guarantees, for the good of all”’.Footnote 150 Dolezal suggests that structural forms of shame must be overcome collectively: ‘socially inferior groups must invert chronic shame – a structural feature of their subjectivities – into pride in order to achieve collective and personal liberation’.Footnote 151
Alternative emotions may be more suitable than shame at structural, epistemic and ontological levels. Brian Lickel et al note that the use of guilt rather than shame discourse may be more suitable for human rights violations: ‘Insofar as shaming promotes anger, humiliation, and denial rather than empathy, guilt, and responsibility, shaming may harden rather than resolve the problem of human rights violations’.Footnote 152 One suggestion for how emotions may impact on responsibility for structural injustice is that greater awareness of historical abuses may prompt repentance. Linda Radzik notes, ‘Repentant persons reject their former actions, habits, thoughts, or character traits in favor of a new set of values, commitments, dispositions, and intentions.’Footnote 153 She notes:
Repentant persons acknowledge that their former actions were wrong and neither excused nor justified by some other consideration. In repenting, one sometimes acknowledges that one’s past values – the moral views to which one had dedicated oneself – were wrongful. At other times, one continues to endorse the old set of values but criticizes oneself as having fallen short in one’s pursuit of them. Repentance is sometimes described as both accepting a wrong as one’s own and rejecting it. One commits or recommits oneself to the right and the good. This combination of a rejection of the past as wrongful and a commitment to better values makes the emotion of repentance a generally preferable response to wrongdoing than related emotions of self-assessment such as guilt, regret, remorse, or shame.Footnote 154
Taiaiake Alfred suggests the need for restitution rather than shame, as a ‘ritual of disclosure and confession in which there is an acknowledgement and acceptance of one’s harmful actions and a genuine demonstration of sorrow and regret, constituted in reality by putting forward a promise to never again do harm and by redirecting one’s actions to benefit the one who has been wronged. Even the act of proposing a shift to this kind of discussion is a radical challenge to the reconciling negotiations that try to fit us into the colonial legacy rather than to confront and defeat it’.Footnote 155 In its continued reliance on the legitimacy of ‘othering’ and its potential to be subverted to maintain existing structures of power and nationhood, shame remains a deeply challenging concept and emotion to be employed publicly and in an exemplary fashion, especially in the contexts of addressing historical-structural injustices.
In the context of historical abuses, the interactions of emotions and power in shaping past and re-enforcing present cultures and structural injustices remain underexplored. Transitional justice is an area of law and policy that has long laid claim to being able to provide healing and catharsis through its operations and institutions, but this claim lacks any widespread empirical validation to date. Emotions thus have the potential to interact with power as a key reason and cause for the nature and shape of a society or church’s attempts to deal with the past. The role of emotions may offer a useful element of the framework to explain the opportunities and limitations within certain national and religious contexts. This book will not engage in a novel empirical evaluation of the emotions of individual victim-survivors beyond existing studies of the emotional dimensions of transitional justice practices in subsequent chapters. Instead, it will examine especially public expression of emotion and affect, with the potential for exemplary, norm-setting functions. Emotions can be evaluated as they emerge across the four dimensions of power discussed in Chapter 4: agency, structure, epistemology, and ontology. In the absence of comparative empirical analysis, reliance can be placed on both explicit references to the dimensions of power and emotion in existing processes and in a construction of these factors in the approaches taken by states and church. It is to these processes: inquiries, accountability, reparations, reform, apologies, and reconciliation – as elements of transitional justice – that the rest of the book is addressed.
Particular emphasis is placed on the emotion of shame. As an emotion that in its structure is a criticism of individual identity rather than individual conduct, it is an emotion that is pervasive in existing accounts of historical-structural injustices but also in attempts to respond to the past. The suggestion of this chapter is that while shame may play some beneficial role at an individual level, when deployed by powerful actors across existing structures, it is capable of re-enforcing the structure of society based on ‘othering’ and the creation of inferior social categories. As a result, public shaming is a technology of domination, assimilation, and civilisation and should play no part in a transitional justice that seeks to address historical-structural injustices themselves based on othering, inferiority, and the reproduction of violence over time.