Matthew Ball On Thinking Criminology Through Queer Shame

Annotating Criminology
4 min readApr 19, 2021


Matthew Ball

“Queer criminological work on shame can help criminology look outside of itself and beyond the questions that it continues to ask about shame”

In Criminology and Queer Theory, Matthew Ball revisits debates within queer theory on “shame” — its affection and productive potential — and how it can engage with the criminological discourse on reintegrative shame. He shows how both queer theory and criminology looks at the productive potential of shame but through contrary approaches. Can these contrary approaches engage with each other? Ball shows what both queer scholarship and criminological work on reintegrative shame can provide each other.

Ball is concerned with John Braithwaite’s “reintegrative shame” which sees shame as a productive tool of social control which can provide a positive and reintegrative response to offending. He argues that this criminological work on shame is heteronormative as it fails to capture the lived experience of queer individuals subjected to shaming.

Therefore, queer criminological work can be a “corrective” to not only highlight the impact of the heteronormative criminological scholarship on reintegrative shame but also how queer scholarship can engage or disrupt such a criminological conceptualization. Ball contends that this can help in reforming criminal justice, making it more accommodative of the complex value “backward feelings” such as shame hold for queers:

“Queer scholarship on the productive use of shame, which has developed outside of a context that is explicitly concerned with attempts at social control, not only offers new ways of thinking about shame as productive, but also brings to light new possibilities for engaging with, and disrupting criminal justice practices”

Criminology of Shame

Ball highlights that the concept of reintegrative shame can be used as a tool of indirect social control, with communities communicating undesirability towards a particular behaviour. This communication, however, is strictly directed towards the offending behaviour and not the offenders themselves.

The theory recognises that the functioning of the reintegrative shame approach depends on an individual’s respect for the community which is tasked with the shaming process. In the absence of such respect, the approach is not likely to be effective. This immediately raises questions on the effectiveness of this approach on queers whose experiences of shame have been largely negative. This heteronormative gaze of the reintegrative approach might prove injurious to queers:

“Both queer and indigenous people are excluded from ‘mainstream communities’ in various ways, and there are reasons that both may be less likely to respect the communities undertaking that shaming… Offender and offending behaviour distinction may be lost on some queer people, particularly given that a considerable amount of shame directed towards queers socially is directed not just towards their identities, but also towards their acts”

Ball contends that the criminal justice professionals have not fully explored the productive potential of shame.

Queer Scholarship On Shame

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Ball highlights the works of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Elspeth Probyn to show how queer scholarship have attempted to look at shame’s productive potential. These queer theorists have argued for “embracing shame” — a contrast to the idea of “pride” politics which negates shame — to explore its political potential in playing a positive role in forming queer “subjectivities”.

Unlike the criminal justice practitioners, Ball continues, these queer theorists are not reticent towards shame and sees it as potentially empowering:

Turning to Sedgwick’s view on how shame can allow us to know ourselves and establish connections, and Elspeth Probyn’s observation that shame allows us to self-reflect, illuminate our attachments and desire to forge connections, Ball highlights how queer theorists have engaged with the productive potential of shame:

“This kind of work can provide the groundwork for queer political disruption within criminology and criminal justice — disrupting, subverting, repurposing, or blocking various engagements with shame and potentially fostering and encouraging others”

Therefore, Ball proposes, queer criminological work on shame can help criminology look outside of itself and beyond the questions that it continues to ask about shame:

“Work that explores the productive potential of shame involves a fundamental rethinking of the way in which shame itself is conceptualised in the justice system.”

Complement this with David Halperin and Valerie Traub on Gay Shame, and Heather Love on Loss and the Politics of Queer History.



Annotating Criminology

I’m Karan Tripathi, a researcher, writer, and this is my one man labour of love exploring Criminology & Penology