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The Trouble with Blame

The Trouble with Blame

Victims, Perpetrators, and Responsibility

Sharon Lamb

ISBN 9780674910119

Publication date: 05/15/1999

Blame society. Blame a bad upbringing. Blame the circumstances. Blame the victim--she may even blame herself. But what about the perpetrator? When the blame is all assigned, will anyone be left to take responsibility?

This powerful book takes up the disturbing topic of victimization and blame as a pathology of our time and its consequences for personal responsibility. By probing the psychological dynamics of victims and perpetrators of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, Sharon Lamb seeks to answer some crucial questions: How do victims become victims and sometimes perpetrators? How can we break the psychological circle of perpetrators blaming others and victims blaming themselves? How do victims and perpetrators view their actions and reactions? And how does our social response to them facilitate patterns of excuse?

With clarity and compassion, Lamb examines the theories, excuses, and psychotherapies that strip both victims of their power and perpetrators of their agency--and thus deprive them of the means to human dignity, healing, and reparation. She shows how the current practice of painting victims as pure innocents may actually help perpetrators of abuse to shirk responsibility for their actions; they too can claim to be victims in their own right, passive and will-less in their wrongdoing.

The Trouble with Blame clarifies the social cost (quickly becoming so apparent) of letting perpetrators off too easily, and points out the dangers of over-emphasizing victimization, two problems which eclipse our dire need for accountability and recovery.


  • Sharon Lamb is an academic and clinical psychologist whose impressive book The Trouble with Blame will be invaluable to philosophers. Lamb engages the politically charged topic of victimization in the context of sexual abuse, domestic physical abuse, and rape (including date rape). She brings together an extraordinary amount of empirical and theoretical material on these matters. At the same time, Lamb's own argument is extremely interesting in its own right, and is set in an overall context informed by philosophical writers on these topics (such as Dennett, Kekes, Hampton, Jeffrie Murphy, Robert Adams). Finally, The Trouble with Blame is exceptionally well written and free of jargon...Lamb stakes out a very subtle and nuanced feminist position on the concrete issues of sexual victimization, as well as on the more philosophical terrain of free will and determinism. Philosophers, and anyone interested in either of these two sorts of concerns, would do well to avail themselves of the riches of The Trouble with Blame. Would that more philosophers and psychologists were so engaged with one anothers' disciplines.

    —Lawrence Blum, Ethics


  • Sharon Lamb is Professor of Counseling and School Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Book Details

  • 256 pages
  • 5-1/16 x 7-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press