Pride/Shame Dynamics in Class Subordination:

Working Class Emotions and Relationships

Secondary Analysis of Classic Texts by Sennett and Cobb, and Willis

Thomas J. Scheff

Most approaches to class dominance award more agency to the ruling class, less to the ruled class. Often the working class is portrayed as the victim of machinations of the ruling class, or as pawns in the structural reproduction of hierarchy. Such approaches are pessimistic; they seem to imply that there is no way out.

There are studies, however, that propose an emotional dynamic in the reproduction of social class, the generation of pride in the ruling class and shame in subordinate classes. In this paper I flesh out this idea using two classic studies of class status and education: Sennett and Cobbís The Hidden Injuries of Class (1973), and Paul Willis, Learning to Labor (1977). My analysis suggests that working class men participate in the reproduction of class because they are ashamed, but fail to acknowledge their shame. This hypothesis suggests that contrary to the tone of both books, it is possible that social and psychological initiatives might help restore authentic pride, and therefore move toward full participation in governance.

Currently there are psychological and sociological literatures that propose two paths for unacknowledged shame: it can lead either to aggression (false pride) or withdrawal/silence. These same studies suggest that acknowledgment of shame can restore true pride. This paper will explore the implication of this hypothesis for class politics.

The hypothesis can be illustrated by two studies of working class males: the lack of acknowledgement of shame leads either to ineffectual aggression (Willis) or withdrawal from conflict (Sennett and Cobb). This analysis also suggests that learning to acknowledge shame might help build pride in the working class, and make for more effective challenges to the class system. The first step will be to state a theory of shame and alienation.

Alienation and Shame as Basic Sources of Conflict.

According to the theory to be outlined here, intractable conflict is generated by alienation and emotions hidden in the interaction between individuals and between groups. To understand this thesis, it is first necessary to explain the relationship between alienation and shame.

More perhaps than any other sociologist, Goffman fleshed out Cooley's idea of the looking glass self. In his later work, this theme received less attention. But in most of the earlier work (1959; 1959a; 1963; 1963a; 1967) Goffman provided many concrete examples that convey the look and feel of continually seeing one's self through the eyes of the other(s).

Before describing Goffman's contribution to emotion dynamics in relationships, I will define the way I use the word shame. Goffman referred to embarrassment in social interaction, but seldom to shame. Even in the book Stigma, in which shame is a central subject, he used the word shame only twice, both times casually and in passing. More frequently and much less casually, Goffman not only referred to embarrassment but also theorized about it (1967).

By my definition, however, embarrassment is one particular type of shame. Humiliation is another. There are many words that are used as substitutes or cognates, that is, for the feeling that results from seeing one's self negatively in the eyes of the other, such as feeling "self-conscious, rejected, unworthy, or inadequate." I will define shame as a class name for a large family of emotions and feelings that arise through seeing self negatively, if even only slightly negatively, through the eyes of others, or even for only anticipating such a reaction.

My definition is in conflict with vernacular usage, in which shame is defined narrowly, as an extreme crisis emotion, what might be called disgrace shame. But in my usage, most shame does not involve crisis or disgrace. It is rather routinely available in the interior theatre of the imagination: modesty, shyness, self-consciousness, conscience (Schneider 1977 calls it discretion-shame). Since my usage of the word includes both disgrace and discretion-shame, perhaps I should call this class name shame, to distinguish it from ordinary usage. Goffman's most powerful contribution to our knowledge of relationships was that shame, or much more frequently anticipation of shame, is a continuing presence in most social interaction.

There were four other sociologists, in addition to Goffman and Cooley, who stated or implied that shame was a motive in behavior: Simmel (1904), Norbert Elias (1994), Helen Lynd (1968), and Richard Sennett (1972; 1980). But much more than any of these other authors, more even than Lynd (1968) Goffman implied that what I are calling shame was the dominant emotion of social interaction.

Goffmanís idea of impression management, which formed the core of much of his work, made the avoidance of shame and embarrassment the central motive of interpersonal behavior, but without naming shame directly, as Cooley did. In his early work on presentation of self, embarrassment and avoidance of embarrassment is the central thread. Goffmanís Everyperson is always desperately worried about her image in the eyes of the other, trying to present herself with her best foot forward to avoid shame. This work elaborates and vivifies Cooleyís abstract idea of the way in which the looking glass generates shame, giving the idea roots in the readerís imagination.

Goffman also made the key sociological point about embarrassment: it arises out of disparities, real, anticipated, or just imagined, in the amount of deference, NO MATTER HOW SLIGHT the disparity. Everyone is extremely sensitive to the exact nuance of deference they receive. This is Goffman's key contribution to shame dynamics. It is this idea that gives rise to treating shame as the central emotion in social interaction. As already indicated, this usage differentiates my conception of shame from the vernacular one, which considers only crisis and disgrace.

Goffman affirmed Cooleyís point on the centrality of the emotions of shame and pride in normal, everyday social relationships. In Goffmanís language: "One assumes that embarrassment is a normal part of normal social life, the individual becoming uneasy not because he is personally maladjusted but rather because he is notÖ embarrassment is not an irrational impulse breaking through social prescribed behavior, but part of this orderly behavior itself" (1967, p. 109 and 111.)

Goffmanís method of approaching emotions also made a crucial advance over the work of Mead and Cooley, in that Goffman based most of his work on the close analysis of actual instances of behavior. This approach differentiated him from the highly abstract formulations of Mead and Cooley.

In his theoretical statements, Mead allowed for the importance of the nonverbal components of communication, when he referred to the "conversation of gestures." But he didnít examine empirical instances. Both in his theoretical work and his analysis of instances, Goffman noted the importance of the gestural components of interaction. But his analysis of instances was not detailed. Like most analysts of texts and most ethnographers, he didnít try to identify all of the gestures in dialogue and the precise details of context, and therefore ignored most of the emotional content. Nor did he examine the context in detail, especially the extended context, what happened before and after the episode. Since shame is elaborately hidden and disguised in Western civilization, an extremely close examination of the verbal, gestural, and contextual details is needed to uncover it.

In traditional and Asian societies, the central importance of shame is taken for granted. Indeed, in some Asian societies, such as Japan, it is seen as the central emotion. In a traditional society like the Maori, shame (they call it whakamaa) is also treated as the key emotion. Indeed, the whole approach to shame and relationships in this essay would be seen as platitudinous by the Maori, news from nowhere (Metge 1986). But in Western societies, treating shame as highly significant in everyday life is counter-intuitive and even offensive.

Western societies focus on individuals, rather than on relationships. Emerson, because of his emphasis on self-reliance as an antidote to blind conformity, was one of the prophets of individualism: "When my genius calls, I have no father and mother, no brothers or sisters." In extreme contrast, in a traditional society, there is NOTHING more important than oneís relationships. Freeing up the individual from her relational/emotional world has been at the core of modernization. Since oneís relationships and emotions donít show up on a resumeí, they have been de-emphasized to the point of disappearance. But shame and relationships donít disappear, they just assume hidden and disguised forms.

Individualism is the dominant theme of all relationships in Western societies. This focus disguises the web of personal and social relationships that sustain all human beings. The myth of the self-sustaining individual, in turn, reflects and generates the suppression and hiding of shame and pride. Since pride and shame, or at least their anticipation, are the predominant emotions in social interaction, suppression supports the status quo, the myth of the self-contained individual. But the obverse is that as we become aware of the massive amounts of emotions and disguising of emotion that occur in social interaction, we can make visible what is otherwise invisible, the state of any given relationship.

It is of some interest that in Western societies, the word pride, when unqualified by such adjectives as genuine, true, or justified, has come to connote arrogance or hubris. I prefer to call this affect "false pride", an indication of defense against shame. Because the emotion lexicon in Western societies is small and ambiguous, it is necessary to clearly define the meaning of emotions terms, as I have attempted to do in the case of disgrace and discretion shame, and true and false pride.

In my approach, manifestations of true pride, like those of embarrassment and shame, can be used as indicators of the state of the interpersonal bond. Markers of true pride indicate a secure bond (solidarity), and markers of shame indicated a threatened bond. Although pride is given theoretical parity with shame in most approaches to emotion dynamics in relationships, virtually all research in this domain concerns shame only. For this reason, the remainder of this article will also focus only on shame. Hopefully, future studies will fill this gap in our knowledge of true pride.

When shame and pride markers are suppressed or ignored, one has trouble sensing whether one's distance from the other is too great or too small. Under these conditions, dialogue becomes stiff and stilted, as in most university lecturing to large classes. Since emotion markers are direct observables in dialogue, they can be use to identify the "temperature" of a relationship, as a thermometer is used to identify the presence or absence of fever. Since the markers are known, shame, even when it is hidden, it is the key emotion for this purpose. Anger is also a part of the picture, since it is often linked to hidden shame.

How does one detect hidden shame and anger? Drawing upon the literatures on both verbal and nonverbal indicators, Retzinger has developed a decoding system. Following the work of Lewis (1971) and others, Retzinger has shown that there are many common words and gestures which may be used to identify hidden shame and anger, if these indicators are interpreted in the social context in which they are embedded (Retzinger 1991; 1995)

Shame as the Master Emotion

I call shame the master emotion because it has many more social and psychological functions than other emotions. 1. Shame is a key component of conscience, the moral sense, since it signals moral transgression even without thoughts or words. Shame is our moral gyroscope. Since this function is well understood, I will give most of my attention to two others, both less well understood.

2. Shame arises in an elemental situation in which there is a real or imagined threat to our bonds; it signals trouble in a relationship. Since an infantís life is completely dependent on the bond with the caregivers, this emotion is as primitive and intense as fear. The point that shame is a response to bond threat cannot be emphasized too strongly, since in psychology and psychoanalysis there is a tendency to individualize shame, taking it out of its social matrix. Typically in these disciplines, shame is defined as a product of the individualís failure to live up to her own ideals.

But oneís ideals, for the most part, are usually a reflection of the ideals of oneís society. Meadís idea of the generalized other captures this notion perfectly. If one feels that her behavior has been inadequate or deviant, not only an internal gap has been created between behavior and ideals, but also a gap between group ideals and oneís self, a threat to the bond. The sociological definition of the source of shame subsumes the psychological one, pointing to the source in shared ideals.

3. Finally, shame plays a central role in regulating the expression, and indeed, the awareness of all of our other emotions. Anger, fear, grief, and love, for example, are not likely to be expressed outwardly to the degree that one is ashamed of them. One can be so ashamed of oneís emotions that they can be repressed almost completely, to the point that only unusual circumstances will allow them to come to awareness. In Western societies, shame is almost completely repressed and hidden, because one would be embarrassed that one was in a state of grief, fear, anger, or even embarrassment.

Two Paths for Unacknowledged Shame

The path of overt, undifferentiated shame, withdrawal and silence, corresponds to our vernacular sense of shame. We are not surprised to find a link between shame and silence. But the other path of bypassed shame, leading to anger and aggression, is counter-intuitive, at least in Western societies. For that reason, I will describe this path in greater detail.

In interminable quarrels, shame/anger spirals (humiliated fury, helpless anger) within and between the disputing parties, with the shame component hidden from self and other, cause intractability (Retzinger 1991; Scheff 1994). Both Gaylin 1884 and Gilligan 1996 propose shame as the cause of rage. In impasse, both shame and anger are hidden. In both cases it is the hidden shame that does the damage, because hidden shame blocks the possibility of repair of damaged bonds. To the extent that shame is hidden from self in others, one cannot bring one's self to connect with the other side, leading to more alienation, and so on, around the loop. Hidden shame and alienation are the emotional and relational sides of the same dynamic system, a cycle of violence.

I suggest that rage is a composite affect, a sequence of two elemental emotions, shame and anger. This idea has been advanced by other authors, notably Heinz Kohut (1971), and Helen Lewis (1971). Kohut proposed that violent anger of the kind he called "narcissistic rage" was a compound of shame and anger. Helen Lewis suggested that shame and anger have a deep affinity, and that it might be possible to find indications of unacknowledged shame occurring just prior to any intense hostility.

This sequence has been demonstrated to occur in marital quarrels by Retzinger (1991), and in Hitlerís writings and speeches (Scheff 1994), exactly as Lewis proposed. With all sixteen of the episodes of escalation of verbal violence in her data, Retzinger was able to demonstrate that prior to each episode, there had been first an insult by one party, indications of unacknowledged shame in the other party, and finally intense hostility in that party. This sequence can be seen as the motor of violence, since it connects the intense emotions of shame and anger to overt aggression.

Although there has been little research focused explicitly on pure, unalloyed anger, there are indications from the studies of discourse by Lewis (1971), Retzinger (1991) and my own work, (such as Scheff 1990) that pure anger is rare and unlikely to lead to violence or even social disruption. On the contrary, anger by itself is usually brief and instructive. A person who is frustrated and unashamed of her anger is mobilized to tell what is going on, and to do what is needed, without making a huge scene. In my own personal case, I can testify that most of my experiences of anger have involved shame/anger, either in the form of humiliated fury, or in a more passive form, what Labov and Fanshel (1977) call "helpless anger." Both of these variants are long lasting and extremely unpleasant, especially for me. Shame-induced anger was unpleasant while happening, and even more unpleasant when it was over, since I inevitably felt foolish and out of control. But in the very few episodes of what seems to have been, in retrospect, pure anger, the experience was entirely different. I did not raise my voice in any of them, nor did I put any one down or any other kind of excess. I simply told my view of what was going on directly, rapidly and with no need of calculation or planning. I was overcome with what I call "machine gun mouth." Every one who was present to one of these communications suddenly became quite respectful. As for me, I did not feel out of control, even though my speech was completely spontaneous; on the contrary , I was wondering why I had not said my say before. It would seem that anger without shame has only a signal function, to alert self and others that one is frustrated. When anger has its source in feelings of rejection or inadequacy, and when the latter feelings are not acknowledged, a continuous spiral of shame/anger may result, which is experienced as hatred and rage. Rather than expressing and discharging oneís shame, it is masked by rage and aggression. One can be angry one is ashamed, and ashamed that one is angry, and so on, working up to a loop of unlimited duration and intensity. This loop is the emotional basis of lengthy episodes or even life-long hatred and rage.

Shame is pervasive in conflictful interaction, but usually invisible to interactants (and to researchers), unless Lewis's (or Gottschalk; and Gleser;'s [1969]) approach is used. That is, shame is pervasive but invisible because it is not acknowledged. Unacknowledged shame takes two forms: bypassed and overt, undifferentiated shame.

The two forms are polar opposites in terms of thought and feeling. Overt shame; involves painful feeling with little ideation; bypassed shame, the opposite pattern: rapid thought, speech, or behavior, but little feeling. The two forms correspond to a distinction in Adler's (l956) theory of personality: children lacking a secure bond; at critical junctures respond in two different ways, either with an "inferiority complex" (chronic overt shame), or the drive to power (behavior masking bypassed shame ). Lewis's analysis parallels Adler;'s, but also represents an immense advance over it. Unlike Adler, she described observable markers for the theoretical constructs, and specified the causal sequence, the unending spiraling of emotion in feeling traps.

Overt shame is marked by furtiveness, confusion and bodily reactions: blushing, sweating and/or rapid heartbeat. One may be at a loss for words with fluster or disorganization of thought or behavior, as in states of embarrassment. Many of the common terms for painful feelings appear to refer to this type of shame, or combinations with anger: feeling peculiar, shy, bashful, awkward, funny, bothered, or miserable; in adolescent vernacular, being freaked, bummed, or weirded out. The phrases "I felt like a fool," or "a perfect idiot" may be prototypic.

Bypassed shame is manifested as a brief painful feeling, usually less than a second, followed by obsessive and rapid thought or speech. A common example: one feels insulted or criticized. At that moment (or later in recalling it), one might experience a jab of painful feeling (producing a groan or wince), followed immediately by imaginary but compulsive, repetitive replays of the offending scene. The replays are variations on a theme: how one might have behaved differently, avoiding the incident, or responding with better effect. One is obsessed.

Lewis (l971) referred to internal shame-rage process as a feeling trap, as " anger bound by shame", or " humiliated fury. "Kohutís (l971) concept, "narcissistic rage", appears to be the same affect, since he viewed it as a compound of shame and rage. Angry that one is ashamed, or ashamed one is angry, then one might be ashamed to be so upset over something so "trivial". Such anger and shame are rarely acknowledged, difficult to detect and to dispel. Shame -rage spirals may be brief, a matter of minutes, but can also last for hours, days, or a lifetime, as bitter hatred or resentment.

Brief sequences of shame /rage may be quite common. Escalation is avoided through withdrawal, conciliation, or some other tactic. In this book a less common type of conflict is described. Watzlawick et al (1967, l07-l08) call it "symmetrical escalation". Since such conflicts have no limits, they may have lethal outcomes. In this theory, unacknowledged shame is the cause of revenge ;-based cycles of conflict [this formulation was anticipated in the work of Geen (l968) and Feshback (l971)]. Shame-rage may escalate continually to the point that a person or a group can be in a permanent fit of shame /rage, a kind of madness.

Studies of Shame and Aggression

The theory outlined here is supported by several exploratory studies. Katz ; (l988) analyzed descriptions of several hundred criminal acts: vandalism, theft, robbery, and murder. In many of the cases, Katz ; found that the perpetrator felt humiliated , committing the crime as an act of revenge ;. In some of the cases the sense of humiliation ; was based on actual insults:

[A]...typical technique [leading to a spouse being murdered] is for the victim to attack the spouse's deviations from the culturally approved sex role ... For example, a wife may accuse her husband of being a poor breadwinner or an incompetent lover...or the husband may accuse his wife of being `bitchy', `frigid', or promiscuous (Ch.2, p.8).

In other cases it was difficult to assess the degree to which the humiliations were real and/or imagined. Whatever the realities, Katz ;'s findings support the model of the shame /rage feeling trap. In his analysis of the murder of intimates, he says

The would-be-killer must undergo a particular emotional process. He must transform what he initially senses as an eternally humiliating situation into a blinding rage (p.ll).

Rather than acknowledging his or her shame , the killer masks it with anger , which is the first step into the abyss of the shame /rage feeling trap, which ends in murder. Katz ; reports similar, though less dramatic findings with respect to the other kinds of crimes. he investigated.

One issue which Katz 's study doesn't address is the conditions under which humiliation is transformed into blind rage. Since not all humiliations lead to blind rage, there must be some ingredient that is not indicated in Katz ;'s cases. Studies of family violence by Lansky suggest this extra ingredient. In order to lead to blind rage, the shame component in the emotions that are aroused must be unacknowledged

Lansky has published three papers on family violence. The first paper (l984) describes six cases, the second (l987), four. The third (Lansky , l989) analyzes one session with a married couple. In most of the cases, he reports similar emotional dynamics: violence resulted from the insulting manner that both husbands and wives took toward each other. Although some insults were overt , in the form of cursing, open contempt and disgust, most were covert, in the form of innuendo or double messages.

Underhanded disrespect gives rise to unacknowledged shame , which leads in turn to anger and violence, in the way predicted by Lewis ;. It is difficult for the participants to respond to innuendo and to double messages; these forms of communication confuse them. Instead of admitting their upset and puzzlement, they answer in kind. The cycle involves disrespect, humiliation ;, revenge ;, counter-revenge ;, and so on, ending in violence.

The way in which both spouses seem to be unaware of the intense shame that their behavior generates can be illustrated in one of the cases (Lansky , l984, 34-35, emphasis added):









The disguising of the wife's humiliation ; of the husband in this case is not through innuendo, since her disparagement is overt . Her shaming tactics are areare disguised.i.disguised; by her technique of alternately praising her husband, by stating how "strong and manly" he was, then cutting him down. Perhaps she confused herself with this tactic as much as she did her husband.

Lack of awareness of shaming and shame can be seen in Lansky 's report of a conjoint session with a violent man and his wife (l989). In this session, Lansky indicates that the wife was dressed in a sexually provocative way, and that her bearing and manner was overtly seductive toward the interviewer. Yet neither spouse acknowledged her activity, even when the interviewer asked them whether the wife was ever seductive toward other men. Although both answered affirmatively, their answers concerned only past events. The lack of comment on what was occurring at that very moment in the interview is astounding. It would seem that blind rage requires not only shaming and shame , but blindness toward these two elements.

The relationship between collective violence and unacknowledged shame is suggested by a recent analysis of the Attica riots (Scheff , Retzinger , and Ryan, l989). The violence of the guards toward the inmates began with a series of events which the guards perceived as humiliating: without consulting the guards, a new warden intent on reform increased the rights of the prisoners, which resulted in a series of incidents with prisoners which guards experienced as humiliating. Since the guards did not acknowledge their humiliation, their assault on the prisoners follows the sequence predicted by the Lewisís theory: insult, unacknowledged shame , rage, and aggression.

This formulation does not discount the importance of the topic of conflict, be it scarce resources, cultural differences, or any other issue. But it argues that in the absence of unacknowledged shame, human beings are resourceful enough to be able to find a compromise to any dispute, one that is most beneficial to both parties, or least harmful. If shame is evoked in one or both parties, however, and not acknowledged, than the content of the dispute becomes less important than the hidden emotions, which take over. Unacknowledged shame could be the basis of what Goffman (l967) called "character contests", conflicts in which the topic of dispute becomes subordinate to the issue of "face."


This formulation has a number of advantages over existing ones. Rather than being based on the assumption that groups are made up of isolated indivudals, it assumes a structure/process composed of social relationships. It is not static, since it proposes that the degree of conflict at any moment is based on the state of social bonds in and between the contending parties at that moment. The formulation is exceedingly complex, since it suggests an analysis of solidarity and alienation in terms of actual social relationships between and within the parties to a conflict.

Unlike many theories of conflict, this one offers a description of the causal chain which links social and psychological conditions to the generation of conflict. Communication practices which serve to deny alienation and emotion generate spirals in which emotions escalate to the point of intolerable tension, explaining the origin of "war fever" and other highly irrational behaviors by individuals and groups.

Finally, this theory is potentially testable, since it provides detailed descriptions of its elemental components, alienation and emotion. For this reason, it might be seen as a "grounded theory" (Glaser and Strauss, l967). In our study of videotapes of game shows, Retzinger and I (l991) have shown that markers of solidarity and alienation can be rated systematically, and that alienation interferes with the ability of contestants to cooperate, and therefore, to win.

Hostility: Studies of the US prison system in the 1950ís and 60ís investigated the different kinds of pain that imprisonment causes. One of the most intense pains, they argued was that of loss of status (degradation). They go on to suggest that prisoners react to their loss of status by forging a prisoner culture that attempts to restore at least some of their damaged status. These studies propose that since prisoners feel rejected by their keepers and by their society, they unite in a culture which "rejects the rejecters" (McCorkle and Korn 1954). Hostility from the guards and from society is met by counter-hostility from the prisoners:

The acute sense of status degradation that prisoners experience generates powerful pressures to evolve means of restoring status. Principal among the mechanisms that emerge is an inmate culture-a system of social relationships governed by norms that are largely at odds with those espoused by the officials and the conventional society. In other words, prisoners are led to seek from within their own numbers what the outside world so fully withholds: prestige; But a lofty state for some presupposes that the many in lowly states will accord legitimacy to these invidious distinctions; if eminence is to be enjoyed by some, then deference and homage must be secured from the lesser ranks.

But deference is not so easily secured, especially in the prison. If, as Veblen said, prestige is always in short supply, it is the more so in the prison because so many are deprived of it. Consequently, these disenchanted individuals are forced into bitterly competitive relationships through which the essential superiority of one or another criminal status over other criminal statuses is asserted. Thus it is hardly surprising to find that the upper echelons of the inmate world come to be occupied by those whose past behavior best symbolizes that which society rejects and who have most fully repudiated institutional norms. For those who succeed in asserting the superiority of their particular criminal status, a sense of worth and dignity is the reward. According to McCorkle and Korn, "Observation suggests that the major problems with which the inmate social system attempts to cope center about the theme of social rejection. In many ways, the inmate social system may be viewed as providing a way of life which enables the inmate to avoid the devastating psychological effects of internalizing and converting social rejection into self-rejection. In effect, it permits the inmate to reject his rejecters.''

[McCorkle and Korn 1958] (Cloward, et al, 1960).

Although shame is not explicitly mentioned in these studies, they imply a shame/anger dynamic. Rather than acknowledge the shame of rejection, the prisoners mask it with anger and hostility, much like the "lads" in Willisís book react to their teachers. Although class analysis is not an explicit feature of these prison studies, they seem to assume that almost all of the prisoners are working class rather than middle class. To the extent that is the case, there is a second parallel with Willisís study of working class boys.

Withdrawal: My study of elderly working class mental patients in England in 1965 suggests a parallel with Sennett and Cobbís study of older working class men at about the same period. I was struck at the time how every one of the older male patients presented at their intake interview as withdrawn: eyes cast down and slumping in their chair, their speech usually soft almost to the point of inaudibility. Another feature was their virtual unanimity that they themselves were to blame for their problems, again parallel to Sennett and Cobbís subjects. It was clear that all of these men were rejected by their society. But rather than acknowledging shame, or hostility directed outward, they withdrew.

Shame as a Hidden Injury

The hidden injuries that Sennett and Cobb discovered might be paraphrased in this way: their working class men felt that first, because of their class and occupational position, they were not accorded the respect that they should have gotten from others, particularly from their teachers, bosses, and even from their own children. That is, these men have many complaints about their relationships. Secondly, a more subtle injury: these men also felt, in some ways, that their class and occupational position was at least partly their own fault. Sennett and Cobb imply that social class is responsible for both injuries. They believe that their working men did not get the respect they deserved because of their social class, and that the second injury, lack of self-respect, is also the fault of class, rather than the menís own fault, as most of them thought.

Sennett and Cobb argue that in American society, the respect one receives is largely based on oneís individual achievement, the extent that oneís accomplishments give one a unique identity that stands out from the mass of others. The role of public schools in the development of abilities forms a central part of Sennett and Cobbís argument. Their informants lacked self-respect, the authors thought, because the schooling of working class boys did not develop their individual talents in a way that would allow them to stand out from the mass as adults. In the language of the sociology of emotions, they carry a burden of feelings of rejection and inadequacy, which is to say chronic low self-esteem (shame).

Sennett, who did the participant-observation part of the study, reported most fully on a particular grammar school, "Watson School," that he observed. He suggests that "teachers act on their expectations of the children in such a way as to make the expectations become reality" (p. 81). One of his observations concerns a second-grade class:

(Indent) In this class there were two children, Fred and Vincent, whose "...clothes were pressed and seemed better kept" than the other childrenísí clothes. "In a class of mostly dark Italian children, these were the fairest skinned. From the outset the teacher singled out these two children...To them he spoke with a special warmth in his voice. He never praised them openly... but a message that they were different, and better, was spontaneously conveyed" (p. 81). (End indent)

Sennett and Cobb argue that teachers single out for attention and praise only a very small percentage of the students, usually students who are either talented or middle class or closest in actions and appearance to middle-class. This praise and attention allows the singled-out students to develop their potential for achievement. The large majority of the boys, however, are ignored and, in subtle ways, rejected.

"... by the time the children are ten or eleven the split between the many and the few who are expected Ďto make something of themselvesí is out in the open... [The mass of] boys in class act as though they were serving time, as though schoolwork and classes had become something to wait out, a blank space in their lives they hope to survive..." (pp. 82-83).

This statement is a damning indictment of public schools. There are a few working class boys who achieve their potential by virtue of their superior academic or athletic talents. But the large mass does not. For them, rather than opening up the world of culture and accomplishment, public schools close this vision off. Education, rather than becoming a source of personal and cultural growth, provides only shame and rejection. For the majority of students in public schools, surviving the days and years of large classes means running a gauntlet of shame and embarrassment every day. These students learn by the second or third grade that is better to be silent in class rather than risk ridicule or humiliation of a wrong answer. Even students with the right answers must deal with having the wrong accent, clothing or physical appearance. For most students, schooling is a vale of shame.

Word Counts in Three Texts.

In order to further support my hypothesis about shame dynamics and class, I undertook a content analysis of the Willis, and the Sennett and Cobb texts discussed above, and for the sake of comparison, a third text, The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Veblen (1899). This later text was available as an electronic file on the net, and has emotion content somewhat parallel to the two texts in question. But because it is entirely analytical, the theory predicts that it should have fewer anger and shame cues than the other two texts, which contain both authorial analysis and discourse by subjects.

The theory used here predicts that shame cues should be the greatest in the Sennett and Cobb text, because the emotion path followed by these men was withdrawal and silence. By the same token, anger and shame/anger should be the greatest in the Willis text, because the lads followed the path of false pride and hostility directed outward. I have used the Retzinger (1991; 1995) coding system to locate words that are indicative of shame, anger, and shame/anger in the three texts.

For the Willlis text, I added two slang phrases and a word the lads used that are not found in Retzingerís word lists: "aving a laff," "us and them," and "pisstake." As Willis pointed out, all three are indicative of the ladsí defiance of authority. Both "aving a laff" and pisstake refer to pranks, usually at a teacherís expense. "Us and them" refers to the distance that separates the lads from authorities. All three are indicative of aggressive rejection of the rejecters (shame/anger). The count of all three indicators together is 27, which is 14% of the shame/anger indicators found in the Willis text.


The following hypotheses, if they are supported by the data, would undercut the truth of the theory outlined above.

  1. There will be more shame and anger cues in the Veblen text than in the other two texts.
  2. There will be more shame cues in the Willis text, and more anger and shame/anger cues in the Sennett and Cobb text.

Emotion Indicators in Three Texts

Total words Willis: 108k Sennett/Cobb: 75.3k Veblen: 106k

1.92 cue words/k

3.19 cue words/k

1.76 cue words/k




As the table shows, none of the null hypotheses were supported. Instead, the data supports all of the theoretical predictions. As suggested above, the largest amount of shame cues is found in Sennett and Cobb: 240 shame words (.32 %). The Willis text is next, with 209 shame words (.19%). Last is the Veblen text, with 186 shame words (.18 %). Although the lowest in rank compared with the other two texts, the Veblen text has only a slightly lower rate of shame words than the Willis text. The high rate of shame related words is not surprising, considering the subject matter: Veblenís volume is centrally concerned with social honor, pride, and invidious social comparisons.

As suggested in the discussion of theory above, the text with the highest rate of anger and shame/anger words (255; .24 %) is Willis. According to the theory, aggressive pranks and ridicule ("aving a laff") are ways of masking shame with anger. In terms of the theory, the shame is "bypassed," not experienced as such.

Next in rank is the Sennett text (111; 15%). The middle-aged and older working men expressed relatively little anger and shame/anger. According to the theory, their way of managing shame was withdrawal and silence, rather than angry protest.

Finally, the Veblen text has the fewest expressions of anger and shame/anger (55; .052 %). The social behavior described by Veblen masks anger by symbolic actions. Veblen was a master of satirical expression, which is too subtle for my method of counting words. Separate counts for the authorsí and the subjectsí language in the Willis and the Sennett texts had an unexpected result. There was little difference between subjectís speech and the authorsí language in the proportion of shame, anger and shame/anger cognates. I had thought that subjectís language would contain more emotion cues than of the authorís, but it was not the case. Apparently both use a language of indirection equally, when it comes to emotions.

Although content analysis through the use of word counts is systematic, it is also somewhat crude, and therefore leads to errors. For example, the word "different" is one of the cue words for shame in the Retzinger coding system. As used by the lads in the Willis study, and the men in the Sennett and Cobb study, it usually does have this meaning, as in "feeling different" from the teachers and middle class persons. However, in the authorial commentary, it usually is not an indicator of shame. Similarly, the words always and never, when used in dialogue, are usually indicators of shame/anger, as assumed by the Retzinger coding method. But in authorial commentary, they seldom have this meaning. I have removed these words from the coding of the authorial commentary, therefore.

Like all systematic methods, word counts bring with them a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, it is reassuring to find that a mechanical method yields data, independently of the researcherís point of view, that supports the thesis. On the other hand, the word lists are culture dependent. For this reason, I have had to add some words for the Willis study of English school boys that werenít present in Retzingerís US based word count, and to remove some words from the counts in the authorial commentary, since they have a different meaning there than in dialogue.

Implications for social change

Hopefully, future studies of working class emotions will support the thesis developed here. If that is the case, what kinds of social change might be indicated? Building pride in the working class by acknowledging shame would not be a simple matter. According to the theory, to the extent that one acknowledges, rather than masks oneís shame, then there is less compulsion to act out, whether by aggression or withdrawal. However, the same theory recognizes that unacknowledged shame is largely outside of awareness. For this reason, helping working class men to become aware of their own shame would require considerable effort, skill, and good will all around. The vehicle for such a movement has yet to be developed.

Of course, all classes, not just the working class, have problems with shame. My guess is that in the ruling classes, unacknowledged shame takes the form of false pride or aggression. Covering up hidden shame with ostentatious displays of consumption, as implied by Veblen, is one such vehicle. Attacks on racial and class minorities by the reactionary rich would be an example of the shame/anger path. In my experience, effecting changes in upper class management of shame might be even more difficult than in the working class, since the rich show obvious gains from their current practices.

But my data concerns working class men, not the rich or even the middle class. Of course it is possible that initiatives for social change in the management of shame might touch upon all classes, not just the working class.

An example of such a vehicle would the inauguration of classes in public grammar and high schools on conflict resolution. Such classes could help students learn that when they are ashamed or humiliated, there are other options besides aggression or withdrawal. In Western societies, children, especially male children, are often socialized to grin and bear it rather than voicing their needs and their suffering.

Having taught some thirty classes on conflict at the university level for many years, I have a sense that only certain kinds of classes would have real effects. Classes organized around lectures and information would probably have little effect, since the changes that are necessary in dealing with conflict concern hidden emotions, for the most part.

My own classes were organized around role-playing and discussion. I could see intense effects on the majority of the class arising out the role-plays of conflicts from the studentsí own experience. Even students who were too shy to role-play their own conflicts seemed to grasp the emotional meaning of demonstrations by other students.

Too be fair, there was always a substantial minority of students who didnít seem to understand the class, and a tiny minority who protested. These latter sometimes complained that the class was more like group psychotherapy than education. But their protests were rejected by the majority of the class.

Conflict resolution classes could be a first step toward changing destructive class emotions. Such classes would benefit children of all social classes, and hopefully, their parents also. In the present climate of frequent shooting outrages in the schools and elsewhere, the likelihood that this option or a similar one will be tried seems to be increasing.


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