Shin-gate: misunderstanding the power of shame in South Korea

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Author: Koushik Ghosh
Date: Annual 2010
Publisher: The Asian Studies Development Program's Association of Regional Centers
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,682 words
Lexile Measure: 1470L

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Shame is not perceived the same way in different cultures, nor is it used the same way. How does that difference across cultures influence our interactions in public space? How does it affect our business interactions? It has been argued, especially in the wake of Asia's financial crisis in 1997, that there was a lack of shame in Asian cultures after the economic crash. The same kind of argument has been presented in the United States following the financial crisis which began in 2008. President Obama has tried to shame the Wall Street crowd. Economic commentators have spoken of banks having no shame. The question is, how important is shame in American culture as compared to Asian cultures? In the discussion that follows, this query will be addressed by focusing on one Asian country, South Korea, and a particular case that has been labeled "Shin-gate."

Shame Across Cultures

Though the issue described above might best be studied using empirical methods, obtaining data involving shame is rather difficult. Fortunately, stories and anecdotes can serve as great case studies for understanding and analyzing what role shame plays in different cultures. Sometimes in cross-cultural exchanges, loss of reputation and other damage due to a scandal can indeed create such shame that it leads to loss of income and other types of monetary losses. It is also possible that a society that uses shame as a "sorting" mechanism to distinguish good businesses and business practices from bad may have great difficulty in communicating the power of this practice. Its relevance and its effectiveness as a tool of public policy may not be apparent to another culture where the practice is not applicable. In such cases, the society that uses shaming may attempt to translate losses emanating from shame into monetary terms, since the society that uses shame may see this as the only effective way of communicating across cultures. A lot can be lost in this kind of translation, and a society that uses shaming as a tool may not achieve the purpose of communication with a society that does not. In fact, resorting to financial damages may actually destroy the possibility of better communication in the future.

The South Korean Case: Shin-gate

Dongguk University, a famous 103-year-old Buddhist university, has been in the news recently. In 2008, Dongguk filed a $50 million lawsuit against Yale University for "reckless" and "wanton" conduct, and for defaming, publicly humiliating and shaming Dongguk in the eyes of the Korean public, thus costing the university millions in contributions...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A299760671