Institute member Jack Snyder has a new article in International Theory, “Backlash against human rights shaming: emotions in groups.” Human rights advocates continue to use shaming as a central tool despite recognizing its declining effectiveness. Shame is indeed a potent motivator, but its effects are often counterproductive for this purpose. Especially when wielded by cultural outsiders in ways that appear to condemn local social practices, shaming is likely to produce anger, resistance, backlash, and deviance from outgroup norms, or denial and evasion. Shaming can easily be interpreted as a show of contempt, which risks triggering fears for the autonomy and security of the group. In these circumstances, established religious and elite networks can employ traditional normative counter-narratives to recruit a popular base for resistance. If this counter-mobilization becomes entrenched in mass social movements, popular ideology, and enduring institutions, the unintended consequences of shaming may leave human rights advocates farther from their goal.
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