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Honour and Shame: An Emotional History of Power

Modern illustration of the military public humiliation practice
© Wikimedia

Honour and shame are social emotions par excellence. Not only do they structure interpersonal relationships, they also play a crucial role in domestic and international politics. European societies in the 19th and early 20th centuries proved to be highly sensitive regarding matters of personal and national honour. The state protected the honour of its citizens, and at the same time staged conflicts with other states as "conflicts of honour" (Ehrenkonflikte). Military defeats were accordingly perceived as shameful incidents signifying loss of honour and were accompanied by acts of humiliation, which clearly demonstrated a close connection between social, national, and generational honour.

The project reconstructs the historical traditions of masculine and feminine honour and shame in their historical and societal dimensions, and examines their continuities and discontinuities, their dynamics and conjunctures, as well as their verbal and non-verbal language. It researches the evolution of honour in the long 20th century, when it was discredited and underwent a rapid de-legitimization, but nevertheless reemerged thereafter in a modified sense, and paved the way for "honour crimes".  Shame, the counterpart to honour, has likewise been portrayed in recent years as a disappearing, "lost" emotion. At the same time, shame and humiliation were some of the most powerful motives and means of social, political, but also legal cooperation, and appear to be experiencing a comeback, as evident in recent American legal practices of public shaming.

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