Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies

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"We are a network of scholars, both researchers and practitioners, dedicated to ending cycles of humiliation throughout the world.

We believe that by eliminating these harmful cycles, a space is opened for mutual respect and esteem to take root and grow, thereby leading to the resolution of previously intractable conflicts. We believe that both global sustainability of social cohesion and ecological survival require a mindset of connection and a spirit of shared humility - and not a mindset of humiliation.

As researchers we study the dynamics of humiliation, the antecedents and consequences of humiliating behaviors, and interventions that can help break the cycle of humiliation and restore human dignity. As practitioners we attempt to bring incidents of humiliation in international affairs to the attention of people across the globe, to create public awareness of the destructive effects of such humiliation, and to promote ways of dealing with tensions in human affairs that generate human dignity and respect.

Many reject research on "evil" as naïve appeasement. This is not our view. We believe that "understanding" and "condoning" ought not be conflated. Nelson Mandela showed the world that humiliation does not automatically lead to mayem. His example attests to the constructive ways out of humiliation that merit to be studied and promoted. We wish to learn from those constructive elements in Mandela-like or Gandhi-like approaches (please note that we are aware of the various criticisms that may be aimed at Mandela or Gandhi) - for example, Mandela could have instigated a genocide of the white elite, yet he did not.

In our work, we wish to make research relevant to practice and vice versa (as in participatory action research). We invite you, researchers and practitioners from around the world who share our goals, to join us. Please read our call for creativity, a detailed description of our mission and a short description of what we mean when we speak about humiliation. See also our newsletters and our collection of quotes.

What is our aim?

We wish to help discontinue humiliating practices wherever they occur, globally and locally. In order to do this we aim at building bridges between research and practice. We wish to raise awareness of the workings of humiliation through research and education, and "change the world" more directly through interventions. In other words, we wish to focus on the interplay of both, subjective and institutional aspects of humiliation (Nancy Fraser (2000) discusses this in Rethinking Recognition).

Human rights ideals, emphasizing that each human being is born with equal dignity that ought not be humiliated are central to our work. We are aware of the debate questioning whether human rights are universal, or not, and whether their advocates are arrogant Western imperialists, or not, and we are aware that feelings of humiliation accompany this debate on all sides. We wish to contribute to building a future world society that includes all humankind in constructive and dignified ways.

The vision of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) is to contribute to reducing - and ultimately eliminating - destructive disrespect and humiliation around the world. Our efforts focus on generating research, disseminating information, applying creative educational methods, and devising pilot projects and policy strategies. With these initiatives we wish to promote a new level of consciousness that is characterized by caring, mutual respect and sensitivity to dignity, thereby fertilizing new and constructive community action.

Research shows the important effect of "framing." In experiments, when players are asked to play the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game as a "community game," they tend to cooperate, while players who think they are playing a "Wallstreet game" tend to cheat. Although the structure of the game is identical, the mere difference in the label has a profound effect upon whether or not players cooperate (see for more information, for example, Lindner 2000).

For our work for more dignity (and less humiliation), we believe that the principle of Unity in Diversity represents a dignifying framing. We wish to promote more unity and at the same time more diversity. We think that this can be made operational by applying the Subsidiarity Principle (matters are handled by the smallest or lowest competent authority, a principle applied, for example, by the European Union). This, in turn, can be made operational, we believe, by Walking the Talk or the Appreciative Approach. We are convinced that this is valid for global and local institutions and organisations as much as for how we construct our identity (and even our brain works in this fashion, by using hierarchies of loops), and not least for our own HumanDHS work.

What we do

Our endeavor is innovative, at many levels, and thus, by definition, we do not yet have a long-standing organization that can look back on years of activities. The organizational structure or our group is that of a network and thus entails a wide range of activities by our members. In our research we study the workings of humiliation, in our educational activities we address them, and in our intervention projects we attempt to translate research into practice.

HumanDHS is a network of scholars, researchers and practitioners that is independent of any religious or political agenda. At the core of our work is the use of transdisciplinary approaches for generating and disseminating knowledge about human dignity and humiliation. We are committed to a wide range of knowledge creation and dissemination, from shifts in awareness and practice at the local micro-level to larger changes at the level of the global community.

We believe that research in social science should not remain within the academic realm only. Like the natural sciences, social sciences should be taken into "real life." Professor Shibley Telhami explains this point as follows, "I have always believed that good scholarship can be relevant and consequential for public policy. It is possible to affect public policy without being an advocate; to be passionate about peace without losing analytical rigor; to be moved by what is just while conceding that no one has a monopoly on justice."

Also within our group, we want to live our values and create an innovative global network where we emphasize respect for equal dignity and refrain from old-style autocratic communication modes. We also wish to "walk the talk" and create a humiliation-free, collaborative learning environment characterized by appreciative inquiry, mutual respect, mutual empathy, and openness to difference in our research, our communication style with others, as well as in our meetings and dealings within the group.

HumanDHS is developing a global network that serves as a platform for everybody who wishes to contribute to this work. Committed to creating a better future for our world, for our children and grandchildren, our members are dedicated to providing effective and creative platforms for building bridges in situations of disagreement and conflict and for generating a program of future-oriented activities that result in a viable global community." (