Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 6.1 The Looking-Glass Self

6.1 The Looking-Glass Self

Cooley (1902/2006) claims that both shame and pride arise from seeing oneself from the viewpoint of others. His concept of “the looking-glass self” refers directly to both shame (what Cooley calls mortification) and pride. He sums up the principle of self-reflection in three steps.

The imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgement of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification (Cooley 1902/2006: 184).

Cooley connected the principle of inter-subjectivity to pride and shame. Sociology and social psychology have valued and often quoted “the looking-glass self”, but have disregarded the part that has to do with pride and shame. Unfortunately, it seems Cooley never came up with an explanation of what he meant with pride and shame. The word “shame” carries very many negative connotations, so many that it is often considered a taboo. Cooley seems to have overlooked this problem.

Cooley’s concept of the “looking-glass self” has been adopted by Scheff (1990a), and is also well known in both sociology and psychology. Cooley describes the creation of the “looking-glass self” in his book Human Nature and the Social Order (Cooley 1902/2006) in three steps:

1.      First we picture our own appearance, traits and personalities.
2.      Thereafter we use the reactions of others to interpret how others visualize us.
3.      Finally we develop our own self-concept, based on these interpretations.

Our self-concept can be enhanced or diminished by our interpretation. This picturing of our selves generates an evaluation of self, which leads us to experience either pride or shame. Pride, like shame, is also a word with connotations, and it is these connotations that arouse pride, not the word in itself (Searle 2004). Pride is a positive emotion which leads to mutual respect, strong social bonds and great solidarity. Shame can also create strong social bonds if it is acknowledged, but it is also a “force behind both individual- and societal-level pathologies” (Turner and Stets 2005: 154). Scheff has adopted Cooley’s perspective on pride and shame, and the importance of a constant state of self-feeling. Cooley pointed towards the need for micro sociology (Scheff 1990a) and focused on the moral and emotional aspects of social order. Cooley was among the first to specify the social emotions, like pride and shame, which are triggered when we see ourselves from the viewpoint of others (Scheff 1988; Scheff and Retzinger 1991). Cooley (1902/2006) wrote that shame (and pride) served as bodily signs of the state of the system; a state which is otherwise difficult to observe. Shame serves as an instinctive signal, both to the self and to others, and communicates the state of the bond, which is a mixture of solidarity and alienation in a particular social relationship.
Kaare T. Pettersen

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