A Retrospective Look at Emotions

  • Thomas J. ScheffEmail author
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


This chapter is a summary and reconsideration of three of my study areas that focus on or at least involve emotions. The first concerns labeling theory. I didn’t realize then that the emotion of shame was an important component. The second area is my version of the theory of catharsis, an approach that has been mistakenly cast aside. The last aspect considers the pride-shame axis as a key part of a major social system, my current work. Theories by C. H. Cooley and Erving Goffman imply that shame, particularly, is all but ubiquitous in modern societies, yet usually invisible. My current ideas suggest that this conjecture may be somewhat overstated, if only slightly. However, empirical studies by Norbert Elias and by Helen Lewis imply support for both ubiquity and invisibility. Both the Elias/Lewis conjecture on hiding shame and Billig’s theory of repression are supported by my Ngram study of historical changes in frequency of shame terms in five languages. Like other emotions, such as fear, shame can be recursive, acting back on itself (shame about shame). Limitless recursion of shame may explain extreme cases of silence, and of shame/anger, violence. These propositions need further testing. For one thing, they may have implications not only for social science, but for society as a whole.


Emotions Attitude theory Shame Pride Anger Embarrassment Humiliation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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