Reintegrative Shaming: Definition & Theory in Criminology

Instructor: Melanie Norwood

Melanie has taught several criminal justice courses, holds an MS in Sociology concentrating in Criminal Justice & is completing her Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Justice.

This lesson will define Braithwaite's theory of reintegrative shaming in criminology, articulate how it differs from other criminological theories that attempt to explain causes of crime, discuss a few challenges to the theory, and offer scenarios of how the theory may be applied.

What Is Shaming?

Remember the time a charming female chef on television was made an outcast by the revelation that she had used a racial slur several years ago? That was a form of shaming. Alternatively, maybe you and several of your friends go out for drinks at your usual hangout. You know your friend has the hots for your server, but you flirt with her anyway. Not cool, your friend tells you via text message across the table. Your friend is trying to shame you privately.

In this lesson we will examine Braithwaite's theory on shaming and how these two common scenarios mentioned relate to the theory.

The Birth of Reintegrative Shaming as a Criminological Theory

Braithwaite participated in theoretical criminology in the mid-twentieth century when several criminologists were investigating why individuals commit crime. Much of Braithwaite's contributions fall under the umbrella of labeling theory, which states that individuals continue to commit crime as a result of the label that has been placed upon them. These individuals become the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. Where Braithwaite's ideas differed was in how the process of how shaming occurs in relation to a crime that has been committed and what happens immediately after the shaming that leads to higher or lower crime rates. He mainly discussed two types of shaming throughout his work.

Type 1: Stigmatization

In this first type, Braithwaite states that shaming occurs as part of an individual's stigmatization. This tends to be a highly demoralizing, ostracizing event that functions to separate this bad person from others in the minds of his peers. According to Braithwaite, it also serves to incite feelings of deviancy in the individual, leading him to commit more crime.

A simple example of Braithwaite's shaming through stigmatization might be seen on your local evening news. Let's think back to the chef mentioned earlier. When this story hit the media, her photo and the racist term she used were blasted across every media outlet. Now, no matter how many apologies she has made since then, she will always be known as the chef that used that racial slur and thus perceived as a racist. She will permanently feel the stigma of that label. According to Braithwaite's explanation of stigmatization as shaming, she might be inclined to use more racial slurs or act racist in some way going forward in response to this form of shaming. There is no way to escape the label, so there is no incentive to change the behavior.

Type 2: Reintegrative Shaming

In this second type of shaming presented by Braithwaite, the shaming occurs as an exchange between the injured parties and the person who committed the act. This ensures that they maintain social bonds while expressing their disapproval of the act. The injured party makes the individual who committed the crime fully aware that the actions were wrong, but the individual is still allowed back into the social group, restoring the social order to how it was prior to the incident.

Thinking back to the earlier example of flirting at the bar, if you and your friend have a long-standing friendship, one of you flirting with someone that the other friend likes isn't likely to ruin your friendship. But, in the meantime, you might end up with a black eye on the way to your car, and your other friends will likely express their opinions about your actions before the group moves on.

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