Some societies have higher crime rates than others because of their different process of shaming wrongdoing. When it is stigmatising, shaming can be counterproductive, making crime problems worse. But when shaming is done within a cultural context of respect for the offender, it can be an extraordinarily powerful, efficient and just form of social control.

Of all my publications, Crime in a Convict Republic is the one I most enjoyed writing. It argues that Australia came to build a low crime society with people who British society regarded as their dregs because convicts in Australia were shamed reintegratively, then economically reintegrated and given pride of place in their new society. Governor Macquarie called this a restorative approach toward the convicts.

Shame Management Through Reintegration (2001), with Eliza Ahmed, Nathan Harris and Valerie Braithwaite, explains why shame and pride management are important to the effectiveness and decency of restorative justice. Subsequent research shows that getting the emotions of pride and forgiveness healthy in restorative justice may be even more important to bullying prevention than healthy shame management.

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My book with Bina D’Costa, Cascades of Violence, documents how humiliation of political leaders can lead to war. Hitler’s Mein Kampf bristles with shame and rage and with vaunting pride (see Hitler image, top of page). Conversely, respectful face management, as we saw by John and Robert Kennedy and by Nikita Krushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, can prevent catastrophe.

The theme of stigma and humiliation inducing violence was developed earlier in Crime, Shame and Reintegration. This book is a general theory of predatory crime. Its contribution to criminological theory is to integrate a variety of theories that were previously thought to be incompatible or contradictory explanations: labeling theory, control, subcultural, opportunity and learning theories. Each of these theories has some explanatory power. They are reconciled according to whether shaming is shunted to stigmatization (disintegrative shaming which makes crime worse) or reintegrative shaming that prevents crime.

Reintegrative shaming allows people to believe that they are good people who have done a bad act. Their misconduct is disapproved within a continuum of respect for them as a person. Rituals that signify disapproval (such as a ‘guilty’ verdict) are terminated by rituals of reintegration.

Emotionally intelligent people manage shame reintegratively so that connections with others are not permanently severed; they manage pride in being a certain kind of person in a way that protects others from feeling exclusion because they are not that kind of person. They do not externalise shame in a way that creates exclusion. Nor do they vaunt inclusionary pride in a way that creates feelings of exclusion among those not included. Communication with others about the experience of shame and pride is certainly desirable and hard to avoid. But both can be communicated without bombast, respectfully, empathically. Humility in the way we experience and communicate shame and pride averts the feeling in others that we are stripping them of honour, humiliating them. Our humility averts their humiliation.

The most important implication of Crime, Shame and Reintegration is not about restorative justice. It is macrosociological. Societies that do not communicate that rape is shameful (without creating widespread defiance among rapists) will have a lot of rape. Societies that fail to communicate the notion that environmental crime is shameful (without creating business subcultures of resistance to environmental regulation) will destroy the planet.