Social psychological research conceptualizes humiliation as an extreme and intense emotion which instigates extreme and irrational behaviors. Victims of humiliation are portrayed as lacking rational control and prone to violent, vengeful actions. I contest this view of humiliation and its victims. I argue that these intense/extreme accounts present a narrow view of humiliation and ignore its inherently relational or dynamic nature. Importantly, these accounts pathologise victims and undermine their efforts to manage/challenge humiliation in everyday life. I present data from several studies employing different methods (thematic analysis, experiments, and discourse analysis). These studies examined the experience and response to humiliation among Dalits (ex-Untouchables) in India (and also among university students in UK for comparative purposes). I show that humiliation is, in fact, a social encounter within power relations. The nature of humiliation and how it is experienced depends upon the way in which identities are defined in a humiliating encounter. If identities are defined on a group level, people can feel humiliated simply by witnessing humiliation of another group member. Furthermore, the studies also revealed that victims do not remain passive during humiliating encounters but possess the choice and agency to affect the outcome of these encounters. Finally, the way in which humiliating encounters are resolved depend upon the mobilisation processes which can even change the nature of identities and, therefore, the nature of experience of the encounter.
Yashpal Jogdand is Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.