Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Dr. Scott Schaffer


This thesis examines the function of guilt as an emotion and affective state in the production of voluntary servitude. Drawing on psychological research into the effects of guilt, as well as the theories of Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler, I argue that guilt is instilled within the population by a particular political arrangement of relations of power (the State form of social relations) via a controlled process of subjectivation. As such, guilt should be read as a distinctly biopolitical mechanism of control. Additionally, I argue that the emotional experience of guilt works to attach individuals to their own subjugation and domination by moving them to engage in activities and circulations that reinforce the dominant arrangements of power. In the contemporary era, the dominant arrangement of power is constituted by the neoliberal State, which works to instill guilt by producing an environment of subjectivation consisting of discourses of personal responsibility and the proliferation of financial debt.