Despite long-standing conceptual considerations of shame in understanding poverty and debates about its moral, social and emotional qualities, the role of shame in poverty reduction policies remains largely unexplored. Notions of shame or mechanisms leading to shame – such as stigma or lack of dignity or respect – feature in many studies and policy evaluations, yet few studies have considered the interaction between shame, poverty and policy as its core focus.
This paper has two objectives: Firstly, it aims to provide a conceptual framework for understanding the interactions between shame, poverty and policy. Shame is considered to be both intrinsic and instrumental to poverty; shame undermines the human right to dignity and respect and subjective wellbeing and also represents a capability deprivation or a breakdown in conversion factors (impeding the conversion from capabilities into functionings). Secondly, the paper explores these interactions with a focus on social protection and welfare policy. Given the universal nature of the ‘shame–poverty nexus’ and the majority of research on shame originating from Europe and the US, the paper focuses its review on low and middle-income countries but will also draw from literature in high-income countries.
The paper concludes with reflections on next steps for research and policy in reference to shame in relation to poverty and poverty reduction policies. These include the need for clarity of language, the need to move beyond the ‘shamee’ and ‘shamer’ dichotomy, and the need for exploration of policy options.