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Shame and the city – ‘looting’, emotions and social structure

Ray, Larry (2014) Shame and the city – ‘looting’, emotions and social structure. Sociological Review, 62 (1). pp. 117-136. ISSN 0038-0261. E-ISSN 1467-954X. (doi:10.1111/1467-954X.12136) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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The sociology of violence is an emerging field but one in which there remains a tension between structural explanations and phenomenological-situational ones that focus on the micro conditions of violence. This article proposes an analytical framework for connecting these levels through a critical appropriation of Scheff's theory of the shame-rage cycle. It argues that while shame is a significant condition for violent action, Scheff does not have a theory of violence in itself but treats the connections between shame-rage and violence as largely self-evident. While emotions such as shame have agental properties, as Scheff and others argue, these need to be situated within structural and cultural conditions that are likely to evoke shame. Moreover, to develop Scheff's approach further, violence needs to be understood as being communicative and invoking normative justifications, which mediate the effects of shame-rage. This analysis is developed with reference to recent instances of collective disorder, especially the English riots in August 2011, which is based on published research and media accounts from participants. The acquisition of consumer goods through ‘looting’ was public performance in spaces where a ‘moral holiday’ permitted a brief revaluation of the social order. Through this example the article shows how an underlying configuration of inequality, exclusion and shame coalesced into events in which the violence was a form of performative communication. This articulated ‘ugly feelings’ that invoked normative justification for participation, at least at the time of the disturbances. The discussion provides an integrated account of structural-emotional conditions for violence combined with the dynamics of situated actions within particular spaces. It aims to do two things – to provide a framework for analysing the structural and affective bases for violence and to offer a nuanced understanding of ‘violence’ with reference to public disorder.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/1467-954X.12136
Uncontrolled keywords: riots, looting, violence, shame, Scheff, policing
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Mita Mondal
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2014 10:47 UTC
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2020 04:05 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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