Research team


My PhD thesis aimed to gain insight into how the politics of shame manifest itself on the state level. A wide range of observers note the presence of shame in contemporary world politics but International Relations (IR) literature has generally refrained from theorizing on this emotion. However, recent contributions that surround the notion of ontological security have engaged with the term ‘state shame’. The current dissertation presents several critiques on how this concept has been conceived in this literature and argues for a more grounded notion based on works in feminist studies, the sociology of emotions, and political theory. Rather than an ‘inability to narrate the state’s sense of Self’, state shame is conceived in this dissertation as a narrative on the negative assessment of the state. This understanding informs a comprehensive typology that can intelligibly capture the elaborate and diverse politics of shame on the state level. The novel conceptualisation of state shame-as-a-narrative is grounded in a historical case study of Belgium and its (post-)imperial past. Three specific moments in this history are studied using both structural narrative analysis and interpretative sentiment analysis of parliamentary records, namely the Red Rubber scandal (1903-1908), Congolese independence (1959-1960), and the Lumumba Commission (1999-2002). The novel conception of state shame was able to bring insight into the particular dynamics of these episodes and make original contributions to the historiography of the Belgian empire. In effect, the dissertation concludes that state shame-as-a-narrative has analytical potential for both the discipline of IR and beyond.