Shame and Medicine Exeter
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New Chapter: Shame

Dolezal, L. “Shame.” In Kevin Aho, Megan Altman & Hans Pedersen (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Existentialism. London: Routledge



As a philosophical approach which takes as its starting point the existence of an individual, existentialism has long been concerned with moods, affective states and emotions. An emotion which features predominantly in existential philosophy is shame. This is a negative self-conscious experience which arises not merely from our relationship to the world, but also as a result of our necessary entanglement with others. Jean-Paul Sartre theorizes shame as a necessary part of our experience of being-in-the-world and also of being-with-others. As a result, shame plays a central role in Sartre’s existential account of human existence, where the capacity for self-knowledge and self-reflection is mediated through shame before the Other. Despite his interest in objectification and shame, in Being and Nothingness Sartre does not consider how these experiences are inherently related to power relations, where the ability to objectify and shame others, and conversely to be objectified and shamed, is intrinsically related to one’s position in a social hierarchy. Taking up Sartre’s ideas about objectification and shame in social relations, Frantz Fanon writes about his experience of being a ‘black body’ in a ‘white world’ under the legacy of colonial power relations dominated by the enduring logics of slavery. Fanon illustrates that the experiences of objectification and shame are by no means uniform across human subjects, but bound up to power relations and one’s relative social position. He demonstrates how socially subordinated individuals do not have the freedom to resist objectification and shame. Likewise, Simone de Beauvoir points to the shame that women and young girls experience as a structural feature of unjust social relations, where female shame is intimately connected to being seen (and judged) by others, particularly men, where women’s bodies are already positioned as deficient, deviant and shameful.


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