Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 28.2 Theory

28.2 Theory

Existential-dialogical philosophy can help us make sense of many of the complexities, contradictions and dilemmas in social welfare. It is within such a context that social workers find themselves striving to help others, both on the individual and collective level. Existential philosophy comprises a praxis, reflection and action. As such, it offers, in my opinion, a basis for social work theory and practice by constructing a holistic framework which seeks to account for the many facets of social work.

Kierkegaard (1849/1980) argues that the self involves a self-relation understood as a relation that relates to itself. But at the same time, this self-relation is concrete. In the process of becoming a self, the individual is divided; it is both for and against itself at the same time. Losing one self (i.e. being without God) is what I understand Kierkegaard defines as despair, and in my opinion Kierkegaard’s exploration of despair can be of value in my exploration of the concept and phenomenon of shame. Healing shame involves becoming oneself again.  To become oneself means to come to oneself. A person becomes a self when the self relates to itself; with the growth of self-awareness. This perspective is essential in my analysis of the concept of shame together with Kierkegaard’s existential analysis of the art of helping. Cole (1971) argues that Kierkegaard’s definition of the self can be paraphrased as the ego being in a relation which relates the id to the superego. I disagree with this intrapsychic interpretation of the self of Kierkegaard, and assert that in reading Sickness unto Death (1849/1980) in tandem with Work of Love (1847/1995), I see the development of Kierkegaard’s concept of the social-self.  In Sickness unto Death the self can be understood as a set of relations, and in Works of Love that what a person does to others also affects the self. In my opinion, Kierkegaard’s social-self cannot develop without others. Despair (which I use in relation til shame) develops when this relation to others is broken (Kierkegaard speaks of one’s relation to God).

Buber’s dialogical philosophy expands Kierkegaard’s concept of the self in my opinion by demonstrating the importance of I-Thou dialog instead of I-It monolog. I have chosen to combine Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy with Buber’s dialogical philosophy in this dissertation in order to create an Existential-Dialogical perspective of social work. Buber’s I-Thou dialectic is important because it emphasizes the processes that arise between persons meeting each other in authentic relations. A dialogical relationship can only exist in a subject-subject relationship, meaning in an inter-subjective relationship: a relationship which exists between individuals who view each other as subjects. When one views another person as an object, an I-It relationship is manifested. Such a relationship is no longer dialogical, but monological: a relation only with oneself. An I –It relationship implies that one speaks to the object, rather than with the object. I-Thou relationship is genuine because I and Thou addresses each other as subjects. Thou are no longer objects amongst others; rather, the whole universe is seen in the light of Thou, and Thou are the light of the universe. Buber (1923/2006) argues that I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being; I- It can never be spoken with the whole being.

This review of the many different theories that include shame has only been a point of departure and can by no means be considered complete. Both sociological and psychological theories seem to be important in giving the concept of shame meaning. I focus on the working concept of shame developed by Lewis (1971), and the perspective of shame as a self-conscious emotion (Tangney and Fisher 1995; Tangney and Dearing 2002). Both of these seem to focus on shame and guilt as emotions that can be evaluated as distinct emotions, which should be investigated, understood, and treated as such. I also focus on the emotional-sociological theory developed by Scheff (2003, 2006), which seems to have a more open understanding of the concept of shame where emotions such as embarrassment and guilt can be included.

Following Honneth’s theory of recognition (1996), the core in practical social work should be to contribute to a successful growth of personal identity. If recognition is the universal condition for the development of a socially well functioning identity, social work must in my opinion build on the recognition of the values which the citizens take upon themselves. The phenomenon of shame studied here has to be contextualized within the framework of social work practices that are able to handle such negative identity traits as sexual abuse may leave on people’s life. The atmosphere allowing narratives of shame to be let out in this research may be created by the social work practices preceding my entering of the scene. Honneths forms of recognition and misrecognition may well represent some of the possible settings we may find these people in.

My point of departure in studying the concept of shame emphasizes a social view; I am concerned with how shame manifests itself in social systems. Many definitions of shame emphasize the psychological aspects of emotions (Tangney and Fischer 1995; Gilbert and Andrews 1998; Gilbert and Miles 2002). I have chosen to start with a reflection upon possible conceptual and operational understandings of the concept of shame which integrate the self (emotional reactions) and society (social bonds), and choose therefore to define shame as a social-self-conscious emotion. This underlines that the self is understood as social and intrapsychic, it is also in the nature of social work to be concerned with both the individual and society. This double focus, on both self and others, is therefore integral to my choice of method in exploring the concept of shame.
Kaare T. Pettersen

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