chapter  1
12 Pages

Introduction—Stigma and Ambivalence

This book is about people's reactions to members of groups that can variously be described as stigmatized, deviant, or of marginal social status. There are many such groups in the United States-blacks; former mental patients; the aged; persons afflicted with physical disabilities, deformities, and chronic diseases; behavioral deviants such as criminals, drug addicts, alcoholics, and prostitutes. Individuals in these categories have attributes that do not accord with prevailing standards of the normal and good. They are often denigrated and avoidedopenly in the case of known criminals and other transgressors, or covertly and even unconsciously, as seems to happen when the disdained person is an innocent victim of misfortune (e.g., a paraplegic). But apparently under certain conditions, a norm of kindness can strongly influence people's treatment of deviants who are severely deprived, regardless of whether the deprivation was imposed by society or impersonal fate. That is, there is reason to believe that responses to deviancy can be either hostile and rejecting or friendly, sympathetic, and helpful, depending on the circumstances of contact.