Public Shaming in Theory and Practice: Digital Culture Meets Classical Sociology

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 13:15
Oral Presentation
Tara MILBRANDT, University of Alberta, Augustana Faculty, Canada
The mobile phone, endowed with the capacity to record and circulate images (and videos) to diverse and dispersed people through online means, is one of the most significant components of digital culture today. New and heterogeneous forms of so-called public shaming have emerged in the wake of this now ubiquitous technology. Often, they involve the intractable distribution of material that depicts—or appears to depict—identifiable persons engaging in transgressive acts of varying kinds. In recent years, these forms have stimulated different kinds of studies, and generated significant public commentary (and debate) in popular media and beyond. A recent example can be found in the online ‘naming and shaming’ of white supremacists pictured as participants during public rallies in some US cities. Taking this case as my point of entry, this presentation aims to make sociological sense of contemporary ‘public shaming’ related phenomena in relation to some of the enduring concerns from classical sociological theory, especially regarding the nature of the social bond and relationship between individual and (modern) society. I draw upon Durkheimian and Weberian theoretical writings and traditions to think through the social complexities of digital ‘shaming’, developing a conception of the publicly ‘accountable’ contemporary subject. This paper brings classical sociological theory into conversation with the study of contemporary mediated society in its digital cultural and visual forms.