Using the Shame/Violence Model to Address the Root Causes of Extremism
Dr Roman Gerodimos
RESIDENTIAL RESEARCH PROJECT: AUGUST 2019
This project will bring together an international team of leading researchers to develop the application of Gilligan’s shame/violence framework across a range of disciplines with a view to addressing pressing challenges facing liberal democracies, such as radicalisation and extremism, multiculturalism and urban tensions. The project focuses on Greece as a case study of a society with a long history of political violence and aggression, manifested across a range of contexts (familial, educational, institutional, urban, political). The aims of the project are to (a) set up a collaborative network of experts on shame/violence, (b) to build interdisciplinary capacity and a common vocabulary that will address these challenges in an applied way, (c) to design innovative research and pilot intervention methodologies, and (d) to start work on collaborative papers and a grant application that will consolidate the network’s activity beyond the lifetime of the residential.
Based on decades of work with patients and offenders, psychiatrist James Gilligan’s shame/violence theory has proven to be one of the most powerful models for understanding the root causes of violence, opening the way for rehabilitation. Working with some of Britain’s most violent offenders, Jonathan Asser developed SVI (Shame/Violence Intervention) based on Gilligan’s model. However, apart from my recently published preliminary application of shame/violence to the case of Greece, the model has not been applied beyond the confines of clinical practice. This project will enable a unique intervention-oriented dialogue amongst psychiatry, psychoanalysis, political science, sociology and urban studies. Using Berlin as an inspiring model of a city that has successfully addressed historic challenges of violence, shame, guilt and community division and reconciliation, the team will engage in an intense programme of seminars, workshops, research and writing with a view to designing specific interdisciplinary interventions aimed at addressing radicalisation and aggression in educational, community, urban and political settings.
The Research Idea
Psychologists have identified shame as a key driver of violence in a variety of contexts (e.g. domestic, educational, terrorism). Based on decades of clinical experience with patients and violent offenders, in 2003 psychiatrist James Gilligan developed an influential framework on ‘shame, guilt and violence’. Crucially, this model is usually applied at the micro level of individuals. In my career, I’ve never encountered a model that is so powerful in its interpretive power of social phenomena (such as violent behaviour and political radicalisation) and so exciting in its potential applications beyond the individual. Therefore, I recently set out to apply Gilligan’s model to the case of Greece so as to explain ongoing phenomena of political violence, vandalism and collective self-harming behaviour in the way Greeks have reacted to recent political and economic challenges.
The aim of this project is to convene a team of psychologists, political and social scientists – each one a recognised expert in their respective fields, but with a shared interest in this topic – and take forward the model’s application: to scale it up, and design research and practical interventions (clinical, educational, political and urban) that would address the psychological root causes of radicalisation, populism and extremism. The innovative nature of the project is threefold: (a) in applying a psychoanalytical framework to the macro level; (b) in developing practical interventions across disciplines; (c) in situating this preliminary work in Berlin: the ideal example of a community that has successfully addressed historic occasions of shame, violence and reconciliation.
Our starting point is the literature on shame and violence, notably Gilligan (2003), which provides us with a step-by-step explanation of the conditions that breed humiliation and shame, and how these are experienced by individuals, what the manifestations of resulting violence are, and how violence is likely to lead to lead to further humiliation and shame, thus creating a negative spiral. Gilligan’s model has mostly been applied at micro and domestic levels. Only a handful of scholars (e.g. Volkan, Scheff, Richards) have engaged with these concepts at a mezzo or macro level, usually in the context of terrorism or ethnic/religious conflict. A parallel, psychoanalytical strand of scholarship has focused on a narcissistic trauma (usually in early infancy) as a necessary trigger of shame and violence. Award-winning counsellor Jonathan Asser developed the Shame/Violence Intervention (SVI) scheme based on Gilligan’s work; he successfully used that model so as to reduce aggression amongst a community of violent offenders at Wandsworth Prison in London. However, there is no published research on SVI – nor any manual of how it could be applied or scaled. My initial application of Gilligan’s model to the Greek case study has just been published in the International Forum of Psychoanalysis. It shows that the application of the shame/violence framework to the macro-social level is highly promising as it can facilitate healing and reconciliation. There are currently no known studies or intervention pilots of the shame/violence model at the mezzo (urban public spaces, schools) or macro levels (politics, media).
This project focuses on Greece as a case study of socio-political phenomena that are topical and pertinent across Europe: a populist rhetoric of grievance and self-victimhood driving extremism and radicalisation; verbal or physical aggression and extremism; the return of nationalism, terrorism and Islamic extremism; and intra-community strife within cities.
Obviously, these phenomena have complex structural, economic and cultural roots and we are not suggesting that one approach will single-handedly solve them. However, the shame/violence framework provides us with powerful analytical tools that explain the drivers and triggers of violence, including aggression that is directed against or within the public sphere, and also against the self (the so-called “suicide by cop” which is meant to destroy the perceived opponent and/or attract pity and attention).
The success of the shame/violence model at identifying and tackling the root causes of humiliation, violence and aggression at the clinical level, the preliminary indications about its applicability to socio-political phenomena, and the fact that it has never been applied in this way before, make a compelling case: our research and interventions will aim to address reallife challenges in real-life settings: clinical, educational, urban, political. This wish to develop and test practical interventions is the reason these particular individuals, who are all leading experts in their respective fields, were invited and have agreed to participate in this project. Furthermore, there is a knowledge transfer aspect to the project as Gilligan (USA) and Asser (UK) will effectively share their expertise with academics and practitioners working on Greece.
The main idea behind this project is the further development and application of my shame/violence model at the level of the civic culture, which is in turn a development and application of Gilligan’s original clinical model. In my paper I use the example of honour crimes in communitarian societies to demonstrate how humiliation/shame, coupled with a collective trauma (such as the Civil War in 1940s Greece), create a self-reinforcing cycle of resentment and revenge. One other example is how contemporary Greek society, already hypersensitive about its representation in foreign media, reacted to negative framing during the debt crisis: the heightened sense of humiliation facilitated careless and self-harming decisions that were driven by an urge to restore national pride. The particular innovation of the proposed project is that it will create an in-depth dialogue amongst disciplines (psychology and psychoanalysis, political science, sociology, architecture, urban studies) so as to identify the manifestations of that shame/violence dynamic and further test its interpretive power, but also – crucially – so as to develop practical interventions: from therapeutic sessions aimed at small groups (e.g. community meetings and educational cohorts) to architectural interventions in urban communities facing tensions and cohesion challenges to a public and media rhetoric that is engaging and empowering, but also aims to heal and reconciliate. In other words, the aim of this project is to begin the work of creating a common interdisciplinary vocabulary informed by the shame/violence model aimed at articulating and addressing the root causes of civic radicalisation and aggression.
A common pitfall of interdisciplinary projects is that disciplinary streams run in parallel, rather than interacting. Our aim is to create a true dialogue and blending of disciplines so as to produce outputs informed by multiple perspectives. Each of the disciplines represented here has been carefully chosen because it contributes a vital lens through which to approach the problem; each of the participants brings a unique perspective to the table. Psychiatrist and violence expert James Gilligan will act as our keynote, providing the operating framework. Jonathan Asser will share his first-hand experience with violent offenders and will help us create a portable manual of SVI. Mental health expert Irene Agapidaki will provide vital conceptual tools (narcissistic trauma, ‘dead mother’ complex) and hands-ons experience of educational interventions. Political scientist Lamprini Rori is an expert on the psychology of the far right and has extensively studied support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Athens’ urban fabric. Sociologist Panayis Panagiotopoulos, one of Greece’s foremost experts on post-1974 political history and culture, will empirically interrogate and inform the theory. Architect and interdisciplinary academic Kostas Tsiambaos will lead the prototyping of practical interventions in public space. Athens has historically been an arena of political violence through daily acts of vandalism and occupation that have degraded the urban landscape. Like many other metropolises, Athens is facing complex challenges of crime, gentrification, immigration, multiculturalism and political polarisation. Tackling the shame/violence cycle requires taking a holistic approach across the domestic, familial, clinical, institutional/educational, spatial and political/media spectrum.
A week-long residential in Berlin (Category II) would be the ideal vehicle to launch this project. We believe that its highly interdisciplinary, experimental and applied nature make it particularly suitable for ISRF, as such as endeavours are harder to fund through conventional schemes. Our aim is to build interdisciplinary capacity for a pressing challenge affecting liberal democracies. Situating this work in Berlin will inform and inspire our dialogue.
Our work will be organised as shown in the provisional schedule. The residential will feature a combination of agenda-setting seminars, interactive brainstorming, concept-mapping workshops, breakout research sessions (with participants working independently and synching as needed) and individual study and writing time. The residential will start with the psychological and psychoanalytical framework, then move to its application in rehabilitation and clinical contexts, opening it up to its application in educational, urban and political contexts. A half-day fieldtrip to central Berlin, including visits to two museum and documentation sites (Holocaust and Berlin Wall), will provide valuable context and a model of how shame, violence and memory have been negotiated in the city.
– Setting up the network and building interdisciplinary capacity
– Design of methodologies for pilot interventions: one aimed at politically disaffected communities at risk of radicalisation; one aimed at enhancing resilience and coexistence in urban public space; one aimed at political and media influencers.
– Initial work and drafting of (minimum) two academic papers
– Development work on a grant that will then fund further research and intervention
The proposed project is the starting point for what we envisage to be a long-term collaborative interdisciplinary network on shame/violence. We have made every effort to maximise value-for-money by carefully putting together a team of leading experts from different countries, universities and disciplines who are all passionate about this project; and by crafting a schedule that is intense but realistic. Therefore, and while the work carried out at Berlin will be crucial and lead to specific self-contained outputs, the point of this project is to set up something that will then flourish beyond the lifetime of the residential. During the week we will work on academic outputs (papers) that will then be completed and submitted by the team to leading academic journals; we will also identify and start putting together an application for a larger grant that will enable us to continue and apply this work; and we will also design pilot interventions that we can carry out as part of the network’s ongoing research and impact strategy. The fact that this team will come together in Berlin in this way also means we will develop a practical interdisciplinary articulation of shame/violence that will be of interest to broader audiences, including through public engagement activities; actually we do not see this as an “add on”, but as a core vehicle through which we can achieve positive social change and impact due to the particular nature of the project, which is partly about improving public dialogue.
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- Dr Roman Gerodimos (Associate Professor of Global Current Affairs, Bournemouth University)
- Prof. James Gilligan (Clinical Professor, New York University)
- Jonathan Asser – psychodynamic counsellor and writer, designer of SVI (Shame/Violence Intervention) scheme
- Andriani Retzepi (PhD Student in Political Violence, University of Athens)
- Dr Vasiliki Tsagkroni (Lecturer in Political Science, Leiden University)
- Dr Rosa Vasilaki (Social Anthropology Department, Panteion University, Athens)
- Christos-Georgios Kritikos (PhD Student, National Technical University of Athens)