Enforcing shame and redeeming repentance. On the social use of an adaptive Emotion in the Middle-Ages and Early Modern period.


This ongoing project is exploring  the social use of the affect shame in a historical and evolutionary perspective. Shaming and humiliating rituals in penal law and folklore have been applied in higher and lower justice over a period of more than 600 years in European history. The adaptive advantages of shame have been discussed recently with reference to ethnographic evidence and game theory. Although shame is deeply rooted in submissive behaviour, it seems to be a relatively new adaptation in primates and is said to be one of the few distinctive features of man from higher apes. In this ongoing study, I use material from historical late medieval and early modern Western and East-Asian societies for a cross-cultural comparison of the prosocial function of shame and shaming rituals in traditional societies.

Duration: 2004 – ?