A Critique of Braithwaite's Theory of Shaming and Crime Essay

Shaming and Crime

Criminal punishment is a critical field of study in criminology. Although the objective of punishment has been declared as incapacitation, restitution, and rehabilitation, theories have attempted to explain the effectiveness of the type of punishment offered. Criminological theories such as John Braithwaite's theory of shaming and crime seek to approach the goal of punishment from a reintegrating standpoint. Braithwaite discusses the topic of the circumstances in which society's reaction promotes or lowers crime. The theory views that reintegrative shaming will reduce crime (Lilly et al.,2018). Through this theory, legal infractions elicit official governmental measures and informal efforts by intimates and community members to curb the wrongdoing. He described it as any method of expressing displeasure to offenders, evoking guilt in the individual being humiliated and criticized by those who become aware of the shaming. As a result, it is critical to examine the theory from logical coherence and scope, empirical validity, and policy applicability.

The logical consistency of Braithwaite's ideology

Braithwaite's idea is riddled with logical inconsistencies. Suppose a theory does not incorporate all essential logic, such as combining a statement S and its denial non-S. In that case, it is logically inconsistent ( Akers, 2013). Shaming supporters argue over whether this type of punishment is consistent with the principle of equality. Shaming penalties are not appropriate for all offenders (Markel, 2019). Shaming sanctions are unlikely to be as successful for certain offenders as for others, such as white-collar criminals.

Furthermore, certain criminals require incapacitation rather than merely punishment. Critics contend that punishing these offenders with incarceration while only humiliating white-collar or other nonviolent offenders who commit acts of comparable moral guilt breaches equality. A theory must be presented logically, with clearly stated premises that agree or do not contradict one another. The approach lacks logical and consistent coherence.

Braithwaite's ideology Scope

The theory goes beyond its scope. Therefore, it is not constitutional. Limitations in judicial authority can be rectified by publicly enacting legislation permitting courts to humiliate criminals publicly (Markel, 2019). Furthermore, most criminals prefer shameful punishments to incarceration. In most countries, an offender's acceptance of a humiliating penalty in place of imprisonment effectively shields their sentence from scrutiny on appeal. As a result, even in jurisdictions where appeal courts have ruled that humiliation is outside the sentencing judge's legislative authority, judges have continued to apply humiliating punishments to consenting offenders. The shame hypothesis lacks clarity in several of its explanatory bounds (Markel, 2019). As a result, the idea may appear relevant to all types of offenses, which is not the case or is not possible. When the incarceration process is the source of the problem or restricts the ability to resolve it, there may be little room for entities to intervene sensitively.

Similarly, there may be minimal space for a new value system when confined by an old culture. As long as care, therapeutic interventions, and social reintegration are provided based on being undeserved, the incarceration process will struggle to improve the effectiveness needed to promote pro-social change; address the needs and traumas of people incarcerated; and inspire identification with society and a desire for reintegration (Markel, 2019). As a result, the idea will continue to be one of the most publicly stigmatizing and unpleasant experiences imposed on a culture that values freedom as a key value.

Empirical Support in Braithwaite's ideology

The idea has minimal empirical support. The theory's flaws stem from its lack of empirical data, imprecise wording, and applicability to specific actions and offenders (Akers, 2013). The hypothesis is based on very little scientific data and employs terminology interpreted differently. Reviews of the empirical research suggest more robust victim-than-repeat offender benefits of many types, ranging from pleasure to fear reduction. Recent concepts of restorative and responsive justice include motivational interviewing as a core technique, which has focused on a slew of meta-analyses that confirm its efficacy. Analytically, this is frequently shown as untrue. Stigmatization and reintegrative shame may coexist; however, the level to which both were at work in any given context has not been quantified. A more empirical study on the regulatory practice of shaming and the human experience of the feeling of shame and its interpretation is required. The empirical evidence supporting the fundamentals of the original explanation remains negative since it does not support restorative justice as a reintegrative crime control tool. It is also false concerning the more significant relationship between these consistent empirical findings on white-collar crime and research on the impact of shame on other types of crime (Markel, 2019). It also gives a thorough practical test to the original and enlarged formulations of shame theory utilizing data from an atypical location, demonstrating how humiliating criminals might satisfy society's retributive urge to punish individuals implicated.

Braithwaite's ideology and Policymaking

The hypothesis may not be helpful in policymaking. Shaming broadens the possibility of implementing less restrictive criminal justice practices (Markel, 2019). Humiliating penalties are not appropriate for all offenders. Shaming sanctions will be ineffective for some offenders, primarily white-collar criminals. Furthermore, certain criminals require incapacitation rather than merely punishment. It may seem strange to bring up the subject of shame in the middle of what appears to be a shameless culture (Markel, 2019).

A simple examination of daytime talk programs reveals an odd and all-too-common tendency to flaunt the devastation individuals wreak without guilt. There is no use in thinking about shame when so many individuals appear to be immune to the moral condemnation of others. Because talk programs are not representative of our culture, they portray a false perspective. Even in our very independent age, social approval and the fear of rejection are significant motivators for certain people. Because shame is such a substantial penalty, it should be used with discretion. Improper use is likely to cause more harm than benefit. In theory, shame has nothing to do with internalized morality and everything to do with the consciousness of others of a breach of an established social standard (Markel, 2019). The emotional experience stems from failing others or dreading rejection. Some people appear to care little about the violation but a great deal about how others perceive them. It is possible to be embarrassed without having a conscience. When one is concerned about one's social standing, one feels shame. The process of moral internalization blurs the boundary between guilt and shame.

Final Thoughts

The criminal penalty is an important area of research in criminology. Even though the purpose of punishment is restitution or rehabilitation, some criminological theories seek to approach the goal of discipline from a reintegrating position to prevent recurrent offenses. Braithwaite's idea is riddled with logical inconsistencies. If a view does not incorporate all essential logic, such as the combination of a statement S and its denial non-S, it is logically inconsistent. The theory goes beyond its bounds. The idea has minimal empirical support. The theory's flaws revolve around its lack of empirical proof, unclear wording, and impracticability for particular acts and offenders. It is vital to assess the theory's logical coherence and breadth, empirical validity, and policy usefulness.


Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. (2018). Criminological theory: Context and consequences. Sage publications. https://study.sagepub.com/lilly7e 

Ronald, L., Akers,& Christine .S., Sellers. (2013). Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, Application. Oxford  University Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315062723 

Markel, D. (2019). Wrong turns on the road to alternative sanctions: Reflections on the future of shaming punishments and restorative justice. In shame punishment (pp. 519-546). Routledge.https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315243290 

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