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Shame and Conformity: The Deference-Emotion System
Thomas J. Scheff
American Sociological Review
Vol. 53, No. 3 (Jun., 1988), pp. 395-406
Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095647
Page Count: 12
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This article proposes a unitary explanation of social control for normal and rigid conformity. Conformity may arise from the interaction of deference with normal pride and shame; rigid conformity from chain reactions of shame. I show that Darwin, Cooley, and others suggested the same context for pride and shame: self's perception of the evaluation of self by other(s). Their work, which assumes a continuous social monitoring of the self from the standpoint of others, suggests a puzzle: If social monitoring is continuous and causes either pride or shame, why are so few manifestations of either emotion visible in our lives? One possible explanation is that pride and shame usually have very low visibility. I call this the Cooley-Scheff conjecture. Goffman's work on "face" implies this conjecture and Lewis's discovery of unacknowledged shame confirms it. Her analysis of hundreds of clinical interviews demonstrates that low-visibility shame was present in every session, though neither therapist nor patient seemed to be aware of it. Drawing on Lewis's exact description of the markers of various manifestations of shame and Goffman's analysis of the relation between deference and embarrassment, a deference-emotion system is described. Members perceive this system as compelling conformity to norms exterior to self by informal but pervasive rewards (outer deference and its reciprocal, inner pride) and punishments (lack of deference, and the inner shame that is its reciprocal). I show how Asch's study of conformity and independence illustrates the role of shame in compelling conformity to exterior norms.
American Sociological Review © 1988 American Sociological Association