Degradation rituals are a suggested socio-cultural universal found in tribal to modern societies. In the 1950s and 60s North American sociologists Erving Goffman and Harold Garfinkel illustrated what they called degradation rituals and ceremonies in modern institutions like prisons, mental hospitals, and courts.
They described these ceremonies and rituals as public acts, designed to transform the public identities of people to bring them down a peg or two, shame them and ultimately—if the denunciation were successful enough—to expel them from their status position in the group.
To be most effective, the accusers in a degradation ceremony need to demonstrate, among other things, that the accused has done damage to the community and that the accuser has the righteous weight of the community behind them. As Garfinkel described it: a degradation ritual is a communicative production, “whereby the public identity of an actor is transformed into something looked on as lower in the local scheme of social types.”
In anthropology, a ritual is understood as central to the creation and maintenance of social integration. By publicly identifying a person as negative—not just in their behaviour but also in the motivations behind that behaviour—degradation rituals provoke moral indignation that can enhance wider social cohesion and group solidarity.
In a similar way to rites of passage designed to mark positive personal changes—like a graduation, or two individuals becoming a married couple—degradation rituals can bestow negativity onto a person’s identity that brings people together too. For example, in prisons a strip search is a degradation ritual because it is designed to humiliate the prisoner and socially integrate the prison guards as superior.
And in a court of law a criminal prosecution is designed to not simply punish criminal activity but also to publicly shame the criminal and restore social order.
Another field where degradation rituals are common is politics. In fact there are days when one might assume politics has nothing to do with negotiation and service to the public but rather is all about who can discredit and degrade their opponent best. In politics one available degradation ritual is a motion of no confidence.
It is an opportunity to redefine the moral character of the accused. It is a chance to do this where all can see. And to publicly chastise a government and its members for not acting in the best interest of the social good or maintaining appropriate professional conduct. Now one of the things about degradation rituals is they are not always successful. Alongside the performance of accusation and denunciation, the ritual often provides a space for the accused to face up to their denouncers.
So when Dr Rowley went after the Government with “e-mailgate,” his job was only half done. Yes, he made his denunciation in the name of the public, which, in a ritual of public accountability, is what drives the power of the degradation ceremony. And yes, this sense of righteousness and proper conduct in office also worked to create social cohesion and solidarity among many members of the public.
We might even dare to say that on the Monday his accusation seemed to transform the character of the Government. Because for an afternoon, the Government wasn’t just accused of unacceptable behaviour; in the public court of moral opinion it seemed to stick as moral indignation swept social media and everyday conversations. It was almost as though many people all at once were nodding, “I told you so.”
Yet the accusation and speaking in the public’s name is only a part of the ritual performance. For the moral indignation to stick and for the public identity of the people accused to be transformed and discredited, the accused cannot be allowed to repair the perceived breach. In this sense Dr Rowley failed in making the degradation ritual effective.
By Tuesday morning he seemed to be losing the cohesiveness of public opinion which, like him and some of his colleagues who were now absent from Parliament, didn’t look like returning (although maybe he has more evidence). And by Wednesday afternoon, when he walked out of Parliament with his party in tow, Dr Rowley was no longer speaking righteously for the public as things had fallen back into partisan politics.
As a study in the culture of politics he had lost the moral high ground and with it the degradation ritual fell apart. The public was no longer whole in its moral offence and it might even be said that the Government fought effectively to turn the degradation ceremony back on its author. We wait to see.
• Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
I realized that they had never understood that women produce the whole labor force and that that work is not acknowledged and not even considered as work. It’s like, “What did you do all day?” was a very popular way that men would greet women when they came home from “real” work.
And so, we then, you know, talked about the unwaged work that women were doing. That is, you got some payment, you got your food and board, if you were a housewife, but you didn’t have the autonomy of money, which ensured that everybody knew you were working and which gave you the independence of having money of your own. But that was really only the beginning, because then we began to understand that most of the world had no wages, that we—that the subsistence farming in Africa—you know, 80 percent of the food that is eaten in Africa is grown by women, unwaged—you know, no money, nothing, just very, very hard work—and that all of this work, the volunteer work, you know, the reproduction of the human race, really, that women do, not merely, you know, in giving birth, which is quite important, not merely in giving children the food that they want and that they need, which is breast milk, but just caring for everyone and fighting for everyone. You know, it’s women who fight to get justice for their children and for men. You know, we have a slogan in London: “Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, fighting for our loved ones’ lives.” And that’s not a Romantic view of women’s work that—women’s justice work. That is the reality. That’s who does it. That’s who’s on the line in front of the prison where men and women are held unjustly. It’s women who are doing this work. And it’s an extension of the caring work that we have always done.
Now, I want to make it absolutely clear: we do this work, and we are civilized by this work, we women, and have a much greater understanding of human beings, because that’s what we’re dealing with all the time. But we don’t want to be the only ones to do it. Men need to do this work, because men need to be civilized by this work as we have been. Men don’t—we don’t want them to be doing this work for capitalism and not doing this work for ourselves, for each other, you know, for the society generally. Men have to start making society, along with women, not to help—I’m not talking about men helping. Sometimes we have to fight so that they give us a little help, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about that being the aim and purpose of our lives, to be with others, to care for others, and to, as I say, to make society with us.
Why are Women Devouring Fifty Shades of Grey? - Gail Dines, professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. (via mehreenkasana)
Having not read it that helps me to understand this craze a lot better
nice blend/picture of gender, power (wealth, violence, structure), patriarchy and popular culture
A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation
William H. Sewell, Jr.
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 98, No. 1. (Jul., 1992), pp. 1-29.
The unequal distribution of global wealth by individuals (not countries) should give us pause. Even the Wall Street Journal is impressed:
Here’s another stat that the Occupy Wall Streeters can hoist on their placards: The world’s millionaires and billionaires now control 38.5% of the world’s wealth.
How do we know? Because Credit Suisse has just published the second edition of its Global Wealth Report, in which they calculate the distribution of the world’s total wealth.
As readers can see above, the figures for mid-2011 indicate that 29.7 million adults, about 1/2 of one percent of the world’s population, own more than one third of global household wealth. Of this group, they estimate that 85,000 individuals are worth more than $50 million, 29,000 are worth more than $100 million, and 2,700 have assets above $500 million. Compare this to the bottom of the pyramid: 3.054 billion people, 67.6 percent of the world’s population, with assets of less than $10,000, who own a mere 3.3 percent of the world’s wealth. Add another billion people with assets between $10,000 and $100,000 and we have 91.2 percent of the world’s population that owns something on the order of 17.8 percent of total world wealth.
Clearly, global capitalism has enriched a tiny minority while leaving the vast majority at the bottom of the global wealth pyramid.