The Horizons of Chronic Shame

Human Studies 45 (4):739-759 (2022)
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Abstract

Experiences of shame are not always discrete, but can be recurrent, persistent or enduring. To use the feminist phenomenologist Sandra Lee Bartky’s formulation, shame is not always an acute event, but can become a “pervasive affective attunement” (Bartky, 1990 : 85). Instead of experiencing shame as a discrete event with a finite duration, it can be experienced as a persistent, and perhaps, permanent possibility in daily life. This sort of pervasive or persistent shame is commonly referred to as “chronic shame” (Pattison, 2000 ; Nathanson, 1992 ; Dolezal, 2015 ). Chronic shame is frequently associated with political oppression and marginalization. In chronic shame, it is the potentiality of shame, rather than the actuality, that is significant. In other words, the anticipation of shame (whether explicit or implicit) comes to be a defining feature of one’s lived experience. Living with chronic shame has important socio-political consequences. Thus far, chronic shame has eluded simple phenomenological analysis, largely because chronic shame often does not have a clear experiential profile: it is frequently characterised by the _absence_ rather than the _presence_ of shame. The aim of this article is to provide a phenomenology of chronic shame, drawing from Edmund Husserl’s formulation of the ‘horizon’ as a means a to discuss structural aspects of chronic shame experiences, in particular how chronic shame is characterised by structures of absence and anticipation.

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