Shame – Shaming – Shamelessness

International Conference
Gender an Agency Research Network
Vienna, 29.-30. November 2019


Participants, Titles and Abstracts (in alphabetical order)



Maki Kimura, University College London

Discourses on Shame in the Politics of Memorialisation: The Debate over Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery


Since the victim-survivors started to give testimonies of their ordeals in the early 1990s, the issue of Japan’s military sexual slavery during the Second World War (‘comfort women’) has become the battleground of heated political debates in Japan and beyond. The paper examines how the language of shame has been mobilised, in particular by right-wing critics and politicians in Japan, and how this has raised a difficult question about memorialising the suffering of victims of sexual slavery during the war.  



Jill Locke, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota

Call-out Culture and the Feminist Politics of Shame


What are the material and affective histories of feminist call-outs, the practice of publicly exposing individuals for their misogynistic acts, and what do they mean for feminist politics today? In this paper, I show how “call-outs” can be both life-giving and inhumane; agentic and cruel, and place them in a broader affective political history of how feminists have simultaneously politicized their experiences of shame and humiliation and used shaming and humiliation strategies to fight misogyny in its many forms.



Stefan Machura, Bangor University, Wales

Guilt and Shame in Popular Legal Culture: the German TV Movie “Die Konferenz”


Guilt and shame can be connected in a variety of ways. This is exemplified by the German TV movie “Die Konferenz” (2004), which in the tradition of the classic American jury drama “12 Angry Men” (1957) has a conference of teachers deciding on the fate of a young man accused of raping a female student. The memorable plot and excellent acting in “Die Konferenz” further our understanding of the complexities involved in trying to find “truth” and “justice”.


Elissa Mailänder, Sciences Po Paris, Center of History

Performative Transgressions in Armed Conflict: Epistemological Challenges of Trophy Selfies


Images immortalized by soldiers have become a tangible social phenomenon and mass medium since the invention of the camera. Trophy selfies, as I have named them, reveal the multifaceted sides of war, from intimate perspectives of excessive violence to peer group dynamics and beyond. Considered within their specific historical, geographical, and political contexts, so-called vernacular photography renders the lived experiences of war a concrete phenomenon. Yet, the social biographies of wartime images evolve through consistent negotiation and recoding. Hereby, they assume new meanings within distinct frameworks. Probing the interstices between trophy selfies and official wartime photographs challenges the events captured in these images by interrogating the legacies of military masculinities, memory, and post-war societies. In my talk I will explore the ways in which such seemingly superficial tokens of war can harbor historical significance.



Bettina Mathes, Granada, Andalusia

Shame and the Limits of Gender Studies


If shame and gender are siblings, Gender Studies offers them a home. Not any home, but a home furnished with an inner and an outer lining of shame. The outer lining: academia fosters humiliation; among academic disciplines Gender Studies and the people who practice them are more easily shameable than others. The inner lining: people often come to Gender and Queer Studies in the hope to thrive in an environment where they won’t be shamed for who they are (or want to become) and how they express themselves – only to have that hope thwarted, sometimes before they can even say their name. My paper explores the (re)sources of shame, and the lasting effects of inducing shame and/or being the object of shame. I also discuss when and where shame is unavoidable (to some extent), and I ask how we might use it creatively.



Suzana Milevska, Principal Investigator and curator of “Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects”, TRACES/Horizon 2020

Apology, Renaming, and Other Strategies of "Productive Shame”


At the core of this presentation is the assumption that shame is something inexorably negative; the paper attempts to undo this assumption. Shame and shaming have often been interpreted as related to social and cultural practices of hierarchisation that undermine and demean individuals or whole groups of people for being different from the majority, e.g. because of their ethnicity or their sexuality. But there is another meaning to shame that can be invoked as “self-shame” in the aftermath of atrocities, such as those committed under the Nazi Regime or in the genocides during the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia. The presentation intends to extrapolate the potentiality for empowerment and other positive outcomes of self-shame (but not of shaming) in such contexts, and to strive for successful strategies for attaining “productive shame”. This is not an easy undertaking, because the

urge to dwell on the negative sociopolitical and cultural aspects of shame and its visual representations as direct counterparts of pride has been internalised in various contexts, as has been shame itself. Different examples of individual, societal, activist and artistic strategies such as public apology, renaming of monuments, streets holidays, and public spaces will be discussed, as they are closely associated with the concept of “productive shame” that was introduced by Paul Gilroy (in the context of his interpretation of the “postcolonial melancholia”) and Sara Ahmed’s analysis of public apology. This paper might not be able to completely circumvent the dichotomy shame/pride and the negative affects related to the traumatic aspects of shame as they have been addressed in memory and holocaust studies, or in the gender/feminist/LGBTQIA context. However, it is important to at least try to break through shame’s “vicious circle” and to conceptualize a model that might help to navigate through different kinds of shame in order to deconstruct the "vicious triangle" of shame closing between the victim, perpetrator, and the witness.



Greta Olson, University of Gießen

#MeToo, Shame and the Affective Politics of Fourth Wave Feminism


In this talk I want to walk through some of the affects attached to major controversies in what is now called the fourth-wave of feminism, often used synonymously with digital feminism. Beyond this, I wish to name current debates in feminisms that go beyond those involved in digital exchanges. These include counter charges of imperial feminism and anti-Semitism within Women’s March, the alleged male-centeredness and erasure of lesbianism in LGBTQ* advocacy, and the fissure between so-called sex-positive feminists and those who decry the pornification of culture. Yet no discussion of feminism now can go without an attention to Backlash. The recent attack on the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, with the young terrorist’s citing feminism and the Jews as causes of the Great Replacement provides an ugly case in point. Mine is a call for recognizing real points of difference in order to encourage solidarity in our actions.



Andrea Petö, Central European University

Shame of survivors: Holocaust survivors, Gulag survivors and survivors of rape during WWII


Memory of WWII in countries occupied by the Red Army is characterized by silencing. Shame was a constitutive part of constructing silence. The talk discusses how illiberal memory politics is selectively unsilencing shame to serve its political agenda.



Ralph Poole, University of Salzburg

Home-Longing and Nature Porn: The Shamelessness of the Heimatfilm


The Heimatfilm seems to be a genre excelling in shame: repressed sexuality, conservative gender politics, traditional rural ethics. My claim, however, is that in its blatant propaganda of such traditionalism, the Heimatfilmactually discloses a dislocated shamelessness. What cannot be shown in humans is transferred onto the natural realm: especially the Alpine landscape is highly eroticized in its rugged grandiosity and the animals are free to frolic whereas the humans are reduced to watching only. This formula, especially prominent in Austria’s surprise postwar hit Echo der Berge (1954), has been taken up and transformed in later versions of the Heimatfilm such as the tourist sex comedies of the 1960s. While here, human sexual activity thematically has moved center front, suggesting a new era of shame unleashed, the formula remains the same: the pull of the home-longing and its inherent nature-bound traditionalism stays as strong as ever and the propagated exuberant sensuality is one that is deeply – and only – linked to nature proper, shaming all ‘unnatural’ sexual activity. And yet, as heteronormative as the Heimatfilm propounds to be, placing spectacular men in spectacular landscapes has also provided ample opportunities for queer potential. The range of such potential for the queerly inclined viewer like myself reaches from enjoying the rollicking of male rivalries to the shameless campiness of narcissists, from being disturbed by the shaming of gay outsiders to reveling in orgiastic nature homo porn, the latter ultimately getting rid of the last vestiges of restrictive civilizing shame.



Anna Reading, King’s College, London

Unashamed Memory: Women Remember Neurodiversity 


How does neurodiversity trouble the politics of shame? And how do autistic women’s memoirs in particular neuroqueer shame? This talk draws on a current book project on autism, communication and culture with a particular focus on a memoirs and art works with and by nonverbal autistic women. I argue firstly that the ‘globital memory field’ – the combination of uneven digital and global memory – is enabling new kinds of affordances for autistic women’s unashamed presences within culture through social and visual cultures. Secondly,  autistic women’s unashamed remembering shames neurotypical conceptualisations and methods in relation to gender, memory and communication. The talk will draw on a memoir ‘Carly’s Voice' by Carly Fleishmann, as well as the work of the autistic artist Judy Endow and her collection ‘Painted Words’.



Katrin Röder, University of Potsdam

Shame as a Performative Affect in Automedial Practices by Female Authors with Disabilities


This paper discusses short excerpts from four contemporary YouTube vlogs by female authors with disabilities (Isabelle Weall, Annie Elainey, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard and Mandeville Sisters). Whereas disability scholars like T. Couser, S. Mintz, R. Baena, M. Olsson and S. J. Onken / E. Slaten suggest that disability autobiography depends on and / or accomplishes an overcoming of the shame related to disability and chronic illness, the chosen examples of disability-related vlogs not only make shame an important topic but are shaped by its formative affective dimension. Relying on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work on queer shame, I will show that the selected automedial practices are informed by shame as a non-essentialist technique of identity formation and an affective strategy that produces co-created, strongly interactive cultural texts. Rather than suggesting to reveal the ‘authentic’ truth about female disabled bodies and their lives, the selected vloggers use their medium as a constitutive force in the production of performative, non-mimetic images of disability. Representing and discussing shame-related physical and mental states in women (and thereby tackling bold, hazardous and highly contested subjects), the chosen vlogs question dominant cultural stereotypes about disabled women (passivity and childlike dependency, unreasonableness, ‘asexuality’ / lack of sexual agency or, in the case of ‘personality disorders’, ‘hypersexuality’). In many cases, they externalize disability-related forms of shame, confronting viewers with (their) sexist, heteronormative, ableist and mentalist preconceptions as well as challenging shame-inducing discourses. At the same time, the selected vlogs neither show a triumph over shame nor the creation of ‘shameless’, stable, sturdy, unified selves. As a result of their serial, episodic and decidedly interactive structure, the vlogs perform ongoing processes of negotiating affective cultural images of disabled women as well as show the persistent impact of hatred and humiliation on online practices of self-presentation by female disabled authors.



Iyiola Solanke, University of Leeds

Black Women, Stigma and Anti-Discrimination Law


Black women are eclipsed in anti-discrimination law: under anti-racial discrimination law all the targets are male, and under sex equality law, all the women are white. Thus although stigmatized in society, there is no legal remedy in anti-discrimination law that protects black women. In this paper, I suggest an ‘anti-stigma principle’ as a way to design such protection that protects black women as well as other groups currently not protected in discrimination law. 


Paula-Irene Villa, LMU München

Shaming and Blushing – An Affect between Domination and Somatic Stubbornness 


Shame is an affect. As such, shame is socially conditioned, but not determined. Thus, the question of who feels shame in which context, and why, is a social, and a political one. Equally, shame as an affect implies a material dimension, one of skin and flesh. And as such, it is partly uncontrollable, highly subjective, and experienced as an expression of embodied corporeality. In my contribution, I will combine sociological analysis of contemporary political dynamics and a phenomenological perspective on embodied affects. Focussing on the complexity of “being ashamed”, the paper will explore the ambiguity of the partial passivity in affective entanglements, and on how it might be read as an expression of an ungovernable condition. 



Christine Vogt-William, University of Bayreuth

Shame and Gendered Violence in Literary Representations of Poverty in Contemporary American Women’s Fiction


Using an intersectional lens this paper explores the dynamics of shame in the female protagonists in contemporary American women’s fiction.  Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina (1992) and Sapphire’s Push (1996) tell the stories of young girls who suffer incestuous encounters in their families, whereby poverty significantly shapes the family dynamics as well as relations to greater community contexts. The novels map the consequences of stereotypical constructions of gendered, raced and classed Others as failures as J. Brooks Bouson observes: “If American culture is often described as competitive and success-oriented, it is also a shame-phobic society in which those who are stigmatized as different or those who fail to meet social standards of success are made to feel inferior, deficient or both.” (2001: 101)

Debilitating shame resulting from traumatic abuse exacerbates the extant cultural shame sticking to these young girls of ‘poor white trash’ and black urban ‘welfare’ poor backgrounds, thus unhoming them within their own bodies. The shame infusing these young female characters’ lives, illustrates what Sally Munt describes as oscillations between thwarted inappropriate desire and ‘a desire for reattachment that has the precarious potential for violence or love’ (2008: 103). Their struggles in coping with their stepfathers’ inappropriate abusive desires and their own desperate desires to reconnect with their mothers are instances of questionable forms of citizenship imbued with shame as a maternal legacy. Thus shame is represented in both novels as ‘equally a family phenomenon and a cultural phenomenon due to its reproduction ‘within families, and each culture has its own distinct sources as well as targets of shame’ (Kaufman, 1992 [1980]: 191; see also Brookes-Bouson, 2009: 2). These works raise questions as to how female citizenship is envisaged against the marginalisation and disenfranchisement that inheres with the racial shaming of black urban and white rural poor in the USA.