AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 583

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Session 583: Shame – an “Asian Value”?

Organizer: Maria Roemer, Cornell University, USA

Shame is perceived as a human universal and can thus be considered as known in all societies throughout the world (Casimir, 2002). It represents the individual perception of social ex- and inclusion in the context of society, because its relevance and function is connected strongly to the different norms and values of specific social and cultural systems. Shame is categorized as a social emotion because it arises from viewing the self from the standpoint of others, be these real or imagined (Casimir, 2002; Lewis, 1998; Scheff, 1988; Tangney, 1999). The view of the observer is always oriented toward the specific norms and values of the society the person belongs to. According to these considerations, the expression and feeling of shame occurs if an actor has noticed that group members have observed a failure to meet the assumed and accepted behavioral standards of the group. The observed failure by oneself and others results in negative evaluations, which evoke the feeling of shame. In the face of a persistent perpetuation of the simplifying dichotomy of so-called individualistic (equaled with “Western”) versus collectivistic (“non-Western”) cultures – where the individual’s agency is limited to a group level – within social and political science, literature, and economics, this panel scrutinizes the great importance of shame or shame-like emotions in Asian cultures from an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective and asks: Is shame really an Asian value? Or is its “Asian-ness” the result of “Western” academic conventions of representing the other? With its cognitive interest the panel question picks up central problems of recent emotion studies as reflected representatively in the research programme of the Cluster of Excellence "Languages of Emotion" at Berlin's Free University.

Shame and Repentance as a Means of Social and Ideological Inclusion in the North Korean Film "The School Girl's Diary"
Sun-ju Choi, University of Tuebingen, Germany

This paper seeks to investigate how recent North Korean films link various themes of family to discourses of the nation and national destiny. In particular, the paper examines how the film "The School Girl's Diary" (2006) emphasizes the necessity of personal renunciation for the sake of the collective. In the film the protagonist, a high-school student blames her father for his long-term absence and accuses him of being ignorant towards the family. However, she learns in the course of the film that his father works relentlessly for the well-being of the big family - the nation. It is precisely at this moment that the protagonist realizes that her father and also her mother sacrifice their entire life for a “powerful and prosperous country”. This realization in turn makes her ashamed of her selfish behaviour. She repents her egoistic conduct and decides to be a useful member of the country, enrolling for science studies at the university although her main interest was literature. This paper will show how the film applies emotion, especially shame, as a means of a corrective to direct and educate people. Seen in the context of the North Korean society, which is based on Communist and Confucian values, shame becomes a dispositive which helps shape people and produce obliging citizens. Through the analysis of the film "The School Girl's Diary" I will argue that it is precisely through shame that the protagonist can be (re)integrated into the family and returns to the bosom of the “dear leader” – Kim Jung-Il.

Benedict and Beyond: Perspectives on Shame
Maria Roemer, Cornell University, USA

The discussion about shame in the field of Japanese studies is centered around the controversy about the notions “shame culture” and “guilt culture”. The dichotomic model was conceptualized by American anthropologist Margaret Mead in 1937 and further developed by her colleague Ruth Benedict in the study The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946). Benedict analyzes Japanese society as social entity, in which the individual awareness of guilt is not as easily traceable as that of shame. Shame on the contrary seems to serve as regulator of social interaction, the individual following a transparent complex of conventions to assure itself the respect of others. In the wake of Benedict, the emotion shame in a Japanese cultural context has been discussed as part of the essentialist discourse of nihonjinron. (Ryang 2002; Griesecke 2001). The present proposal attempts at examining this discourse and to further contrasting it with alternative approaches. What perspectives can be opened via readings like for example by German cultural philosopher Birgit Griesecke, who suggests taking Benedict’s “shame culture” as productive metaphor? Or by viewpoints from within interdisciplinary emotion studies? How and in how far is speaking about “shame” in a Japanese or Japanological context possible today?

Representing the "Queer Other" in Ehtnographic Film: An Experimental Approach to Intersectionality and Identity Politics of Lesbians in Indonesia
Laura Coppens, University of Zurich, Switzerland


Shameful Confessions: A German-Japanese Comparison
Tara Beaney, Free University, Germany