Degradation Ceremony: Definition and Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Degradation…
  • 1:39 Components
  • 3:22 Examples
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that lawyers participate in degradation ceremonies as a part of their occupation? Learn more about degradation ceremonies through several examples, including the perp walk.

What is a Degradation Ceremony?

Harry is a 30-year-old man who is facing criminal charges for attempting to rob a bank. Upon being caught in the act, Harry was immediately placed in jail until the date of his trial. Harry was brought into the courtroom right before his trial wearing handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit. The judge read the charges against Harry and witnesses were called to testify. News reporters from various stations showed up at the trial and took notes. In the end, Harry was found guilty of all charges. The judge sentenced Harry to 25 years in prison. As Harry exits the courtroom and is escorted off to jail, news reporters and camera crews snap pictures and take videos of him. Within hours, Harry's crime and sentence are covered in various newspapers, television shows, and news outlets. What Harry has experienced is an example of a degradation ceremony.

So what exactly is a degradation ceremony? A degradation ceremony is a formal or informal ritual that is used to eject an individual from a group and to rid that individual of his or her identity as a member of the group. Degradation ceremonies are one way in which a group can deal with people who have severely violated group norms or expectations, like when someone commits a felony by trying to rob a bank. Degradation ceremonies can also be used as a form of initiation into certain institutions such as prisons, mental institutions, and the military. By stripping people of their former identities, degradation ceremonies make it easier for people to accept external control. Lawyers and judges make occupations out of degradation ceremonies.


There are several criteria that must be met in order for a degradation ceremony to be successful.

The perpetrator's transgression has to be known to all members of the group. In Harry's case, this was done by way of a public trial.

A person in a position of authority has to proclaim the perpetrator's transgression to the group. This cannot be done by other group members. Harry's transgressions were announced by a judge, who is considered a person of authority in the court of law.

Group members think that the person of authority is acting out of concern for the entire group. If, for example, the group members thought that the judge was denouncing Harry because of a personal vendetta, the degradation ceremony would not be successful.

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