degradation ceremony

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Introduced by Harold Garfinkel in his article on ‘Conditions of Successful Degradation Ceremonies’ (American Journal of Sociology, 1956), the term degradation ceremony (or ‘status degradation ceremony’) refers to communicative work directed towards transforming an individual's total identity into an identity lower in the relevant group's scheme of social types. Garfinkel argued that the structural conditions of moral indignation and shame—and hence the conditions of status degradation—are universal to all societies. Law courts are one example where degradation ceremonies are carried out publicly by professional degraders (lawyers and judges) as an occupational routine. Public denunciations undertaken in other social settings may be just as effective. The term highlights the importance of societal reaction in the defining of deviance in everyday life. See also labelling; status; stigma; symbolic interactionism.

Subjects: Sociology.

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