Wednesday, May 30, 2007

different types of stigma

today i started re-reading Goffman's absolute classic text "Stigma: notes on the management of spoiled identity". It's one of those books that is simultaneoulsy hopelessly outdated and incredibly relevant.

OK, so the bit I wanted to share is where he outlines what he sees as the 3 different bases for an individual being stigmatized (Goffman, by the way, focusses exclusively, and problematically, on stigma as an individual phenomenon, rather than involving groups, but let's ignore that for the time being).

Goffman's 3 types of stigma:
(i) "abominations of the body": various physical deformities.
(ii) "blemishes of individual character perceived as weak will, domineering of unnatural passions, treacherous and rigid beliefs, and dishonesty, these being inferred from a known record of, for example, mental disorder, imprisonment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicidal attempts, and radical political behaviour."
(iii) tribal stigma of race, nation and religion; that "equally contaminate all members of a family"

OK, so Goffman was writing in 1963, but I think that these days only some types of prejudice are socially acceptable, while others are taboo. I think that "abominations of the body" (i) and "tribal stigmas" (iii) are unacceptable bases for prejudice, but "blemishes of individual character" (ii) are an entirely acceptable basis.

So, often people try to argue that a particular stigmatised feature is of type (ii) if they wish to vilify the individual/group and conversely that the feature is actually not of type (ii) if they wish to defend the individual/group. For example, people who wish to vilify Islam frame it as "radical political behaviour", or use the blurry term "culture". Those who wish to defend it frame it as merely a religion. Similarly, some who wish to defend homos argue that it is biologically based, while some who wish to vilify us frame it in terms of the "gay lifestyle." Mental health stuff is similar, in that we are portrayed as having agency over our stigmatised behaviours by those who want to vilify us, but we are presented as having an "illness" comparable to a bodily "disorder" by those who wish to defend us.

Then, we come to those who valorise the middle category - largely queers but also gimps, crips and mad folk. For example, the self-identified "sex radicals" who are organising "Camp Betty" (a sex-radical gathering) write stuff like:
"Let's show her [Betty, aka the Queen] what this great nation was built on - criminals, perverts and stolen land. So poofters, sheilas, reffos, squatters, deviants and outsiders - your time is now."

Interesting stuff. I'm pretty excited. Thanks Erving Goff-man!


Mrs. Joseph said...

I'm with you on the blemishes of character being an acceptable basis for stigma

thandie said...

wow... how informative. thank you for all this, I finally get it, and it is such a coincident that I bumped into your blog exactly a day before I write my sociology test (about Goffman and all)!