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Discursive Analysis of John Braithwaite’s Theory of Reintegrative Shaming

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A complex subject, criminology encompasses numerous different disciplines. For this reason a universally accepted definition ceases to exist; however, most scholars agree it is the scientific study of crime (Jeffery, 1959), which involves the “processes of making laws, of breaking laws, and of reacting toward the breaking of laws” (Sutherland, 1947. p.1). A key area of interest in criminology is crime control, which entails a broad range of evolving strategies implemented to prevent crime. In 2016 the Home Office published their Modern Crime Prevention Strategy which stated, “-the police, the courts, prisons and probation services- can prevent crime through four principle mechanisms- deterrence, legitimacy, incapacitation and rehabilitation” (Home Office 2016, p.21). Alas, since the publishing of the report the criminal justice system has fallen into a state of crisis. In England and Wales 10.7 million offences were committed in 2018 (Office of National Statistics), with the prison population totalling 83,146 (World Prison Brief 2018). Prison sentences in England and Wales have increased since 2010 with 46 percent being over 4 years, and 58 percent of prisons are now categorised as overcrowded (Sturge 2018).

Notorious for their low crime rates are Japan and New Zealand. Japan’s crime rates has hit a record low with 915,042 crimes being reported (Statistics Japan 2018), their prison population totalling 51, 805 in 2018 (World Prison Brief 2018). Similarly, New Zealand is ranked the second safest country in the world (Global Peace Index 2018). They have an even lower prison population of 10,435 (World Prison Brief 2018) with data showing only 259, 891 crimes were reported in 2018 (New Zealand Police 2018). Upon further review, it can be seen that the criminal justice systems in these countries rely heavily on reintegrative shaming. Pioneered by John Braithwaite (1989), this theoretical model on crime control identifies two forms of shame, reintegrative and stigmatic. Emphasising the importance of direct community involvement in communicating shame to an offender, Braithwaite highlights the need for shaming to be reintegrative, for if shame stigmatizes an offender it can be counterproductive.

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Braithwaite’s theory has been highly influential in re-shaping the criminal justice system (Karstedt DATE), it underpinning the principles in restorative justice. Using a comprehensive range of academic literature and contemporary data, this essay will discuss John Braithwaite’s theory of reintegrative shaming. In addition, it will critically discuss the main policy implications of this theory.

Crime control is heavily contested by various different theoretical approaches. Utilitarian theorists such as Cessare Beccaria (1738-1794), argue crime can be controlled through appropriate punishments which can only be imposed and exercised by criminal justice professionals. Thus imprisonment became a common punishment towards the end of the eighteenth century in the United Kingdom. Neo-classical theorists view criminals as rational individuals who pursue their own interests. They contend crime can be effectively reduced by removing opportunities for an offender to commit a crime, in addition to giving jurist professionals sole responsibility for developing a system of punishments (Thomas, 2014; Braithwaite 1989). Adopting a different stance, liberal-permissive theorists separate the act of a crime from an offender. In their view, “deviance is not a quality of the act a person commits but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender” (Becker, 1963. p.9 ). It was this approach which changed the face of criminology, it providing individuals with a better understanding of criminals, it appealing for more tolerance. Converging these theories to produce a singular explanatory system of crime control is John Braithwaite (1989), who established reintegrative shaming theory. Defined by Oxford dictionaries, shame is, “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.” It is a social emotion, one which is accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, powerlessness and inadequacy (Block-Lewis 1971). According to Braithwaite, shaming is an alluring tool which coaxes individuals to comply with the criminal law, it being a process by which citizens are able to become actively responsible in informing offenders of their resentment towards criminal behaviour. Public shaming was often used during the Middle Ages where offenders were paraded through the public to a pillory or the gallows in an ostentatious procession where they would endure great ridicule (Carrel, 2009). In contemporary society, naming and shaming initiatives are still implemented with offenders globally being named and shamed for their crimes in media outlets. More specifically, Megan’s Law in the United States allows law enforcement agencies to notify the public about registered sex offenders living in their area, their personal information such as photographs, names and addresses being made available to the public (Bonnar-Kidd, 2010).

Reintegrative shaming is a “moral educative” (Braithwaite 1989, p. 11) theory of social control. Braithwaite recognised the suffocating aspects of socially repressive forms of punishment, it merely locking individuals away from communities to prevent them from reoffending. Reintegrative shaming conveys individuals cannot be wholly moral if their choices are consistently oriented around their own interests. Individuals are subsequently shamed, when they “trample” (Braithwaite 1989, p.11) the autonomy of another individual.

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Discursive Analysis of John Braithwaite’s Theory of Reintegrative Shaming. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“Discursive Analysis of John Braithwaite’s Theory of Reintegrative Shaming.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
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