Shaming Encounters: Reflections on Contemporary Understandings of Social Inequality and Health

Marian Peacock, Paul Bissell, Jenny Owen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


The idea that social inequality has deleterious consequences for population health is well established within social epidemiology and medical sociology (Marmot and Wilkinson, 2001; Scambler, 2012). In this article, we critically examine arguments advanced by Wilkinson and Pickett in The Spirit Level (2009) that in more unequal countries population health suffers, in part, because of the stress and anxiety arising from individuals making invidious or shame-inducing comparisons with others regarding their social position. We seek to extend their arguments, drawing on sociologically informed studies exploring how people reflect on issues of social comparison and shame, how they resist shame, and the resources, such as ‘collective imaginaries’ (Bouchard, 2009), which may be deployed to protect against these invidious comparisons. We build on the arguments outlined in The Spirit Level, positing a sociologically informed account of shame connected to contemporary understandings of class and neoliberalism, as well as inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-402
Issue number2
Early online date18 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2014


  • health inequality
  • income inequality
  • shame
  • social comparison
  • social epidemiology


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