Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 1.2.2. Three forms for disrespect

1.2.2 Three forms for disrespect

Without claims to recognition as mentioned above, there is no way of using the concept of disrespect in a meaningful fashion. Disrespect refers to the specific vulnerability of humans resulting from the internal interdependence of individualization and recognition. Breakwell (1983) argues that since we are all dependent on the respect from each others, the possible experience of being disrespected carries with it a danger of injury. This can in my opinion be so strong that it can bring the identity of the person as a whole to the point of collapse.

Honnett (1995, 2007) differs between three forms of disrespect (German: Mibachtung): violation of the body (abuse and rape); the denial of rights (exclusion); and the denigration of ways of life (stigma). The first from form for disrespect is about the denial of others right to dispose over ones own body. This represents the most fundamental form for degradation because it causes a degree of shame which has a destructive impact on a person’s practical relation-to-self (Piers and Singer 1953/1971; Lynd 1961/1999; Lewis 1971; Tangney and Dearing 2002; Scheff 2003). The injury of physical and sexual abuse in not just the physical pain but rather the combination of this pain with the feeling of being defencelessly at the mercy of another subject, to the point of feeling that one has been deprived of reality (Scarry 1985). Physical and sexual abuse represents a type of disrespect that does lasting damage to one’s basic confidence (learned through love) that one can autonomously control one’s own body. The consequence being shame coupled with the loss of trust in oneself and others. This again affects all practical dealings with others, even at a physical level.

The second form for disrespect has to do with being excluded from the ownership of certain rights within a society. People who are excluded are directly or indirectly considered to be less moral responsible as other members of society. The consequence of this form for disrespect is shame, a loss of self-respect and the loss of the ability to relate to oneself as a legally equal interaction partner with other fellow human beings.

The third from for disrespect is about being stigmatized. Some ways of living are looked down upon and given a lower social status, instead of being recognized as acceptable ways of living. People are not valued as they are. They are expected to change in order to conform to society’s accepted norms. The consequences here are shame, indignation and anger. It deprives a person of self-realization and the possibility of finding and being oneself with the encouragement of group solidarity.

In order to acquire a successful relation-to-self, Honnett (1995) argues that one is dependent on the intersubjective recognition of one’s abilities and accomplishments. Hjelle (2006), Ellingsen (2007), Skjefstad (2007) and Thrana (2008) have all carried out research within the field of social work in Norway which shows the importance of recognition with people who have felt the disrespect from abuse, exclusion and stigmatization. When recognition is denied a person, negative reactions such as shame is a probable reaction. Shame is a consequence in all three forms of disrespect. In the case of shame, it is not fixed from the outset which party to the interaction is responsible for violating the norm, a norm that the subject now lacks, as it were, for the routine continuation of an action. The emotional content of shame consists, to begin with, in a kind of lowering of one’s own feeling of self-worth. Ashamed of oneself as a result of having one’s action rejected, one experiences oneself as being of lower social value than one had previously assumed. Shame can be conceived in my opinion as a moral emotion that expresses the diminished self-respect typically accompanying the passive endurance of humiliation and degradation. Shame can be seen as a symbolic burden for those that have been treated irrespectively. Marthinsen (2003) argues that this means that symbolic power (Bourdieu 1991) has become negative laden. The shame that follows disrespect can only be devaluated by treating others with respect and recognition (Skjefstad 2007).

It is my opinion that all of these three forms of disrespect are present in the settings of this study, the Incest Centre of Vestfold. Shame seems to be a common denominator in: abuse; exclusion; and stigma. Informants in the interviews speak of the losing control over their bodies because of sexual abuse, and how this disrespect towards ones body seems to create a lasting damage to their self-image and the shame that engulfs both mind and body. They speak of feeling excluded from society because they feel responsible for the abuse they have suffered and therefore being less moral responsible then others in society. This loss of self-respect seems to lead to shame. They also speak of being less valued then others because they are sexually abused, and must change in order to conform to society’s accepted norms. Many seem to fail in this conquest and fall outside of group solidarity resulting in the shame of being stigmatized as disabled, physically or mentally ill, emotionally unstable, and so forth.

Honneth’s theory of recognition is not common knowledge to the employees or users of the Centre, but still it seems to be an appropriate theory to use in the description of the modus operandi of the Centre. In my opinion, the Centre works very much in accordance with Honneth’s three forms of recognition (love, legal rights and solidarity) in order to struggle against the three forms for disrespect (abuse, exclusion and stigma).
 Kaare T. Pettersen

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