chapter  13
17 Pages

Residing in the Community

Stigma is a social process and is characterized by the exclusion, blame, or devaluation of a person or group because of a negative social judgment about them (Scambler 2009). According to Erving Goffman (1963:3), stigma can be defined as “an attribute that is deeply discrediting.” Goffman reminds us that the term stigma originated with the ancient Greeks, who apparently used it to refer to a mark on the body. These marks were intended to represent something unusual and morally bad about the people having them. Usually, the marks were brands cut or burned into the body to identify the bearer as a criminal, a slave, or a traitor. Thus, any citizen encountering the stigmatized person was entitled to treat him or her badly or, once aware of the mark, was expected to avoid contact altogether with that person. In contemporary society, Goffman explains, there are three main forms of stigma: (1) abominations of the body, such as various types of physical deformities; (2) blemishes of individual character-that is, mental disorder, sexual deviance, dishonesty, criminality, addiction to drugs, alcoholism, suicidal tendency, political radicalism, and so forth; and (3) the stigma of race, religion, and nationality. The person with such attributes is therefore someone who is different from most other people, but in a negative (supposedly less human) way. “On this assumption,” says Goffman (1963:5), “we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his [or her] life chances.”