Volume 2, Issue 2, Autumn 2016
Trajectories of Modernity
Shame and the Imaginary Institution of Society
This essay is about the role of shame in the institution of society. Drawing on the work of Cornelius Castoriadis and Louis Hartz, I argue for the presence and importance of shame in even the most racially violent and stratified of societies. Using an example of extreme racial violence from apartheid South Africa, I also argue that shame mediates in profound ways the ideas and practices of the individuals who make up settler societies. This is because shame is by definition relational and social in its operation. For one to feel shame, there needs to be another or the consciousness of another. We feel ashamed in the world, even though our feeling of shame might feel like a primal, private emotion. This has a profound effect on how individuals act, even in racially stratified societies.