Topics: Sociology, Health care, Patient Pages: 13 (2688 words) Published: February 24, 2013
Stigma, Labelling and Stereotyping

Lecture notes – Frank Jacob

3rd October 2007


Webster’s dictionary defines stigma as a “mark of shame or discredit”. Goffman (1963) traces the origin of the word back to the ancient Greeks who used the word to describe cuts, or branding, made in the body to denote whether the person was a slave, criminal or a traitor.

It was a sign of disgrace and shame.

Goffman (1963) went on to argue that a stigma, or having a stigmatised condition is socially constructed, whereby the person is measured against what is considered to be “normal”. For example it is considered “normal” to have ones sight, therefore to be blind is “abnormal” and thus there is a stigma surrounding blindness.

Goffman suggests that stigma is, “an undesirable attribute that is incongruous with our stereotype of what a given individual should be” Goffman (1963, p.3.)

Social identity

Goffman argues that when we meet another person we categorize them according them various attributes and characteristics that we consider to be normal for that category.

This categorization is made therefore on the social identity of the individual. Social identity is made up from a number of factors and may include e.g.:

• Physical appearance and activities

• Professional roles

• Concept of self

Hooper (1981) argues that anything changes the person’s social identity such a physical deformity creates a stigma.

Stigma according to Goffman is something that disqualifies a person from full social acceptance. When a person is not able to meet our expectations because their attributes are different or undesirable they become reduced from being acceptable to undesirable

Classifications: Goffman (1963)

1. Discredited: Visual clues, e.g. a wheelchair, shortness of breath, smell, clothes

2. Discreditable: No visual clues, therefore the discrepancy is hidden. E.g. Epilepsy, HIV positive, Schizophrenia etc. The dilemma then arises whether to tell or not.

Types of stigma: Goffman (1963)

1. Stigma of physical deformity: e.g. physical changes associated with ageing/disease process, obesity/size, colour etc. (N.b physical beauty, youthfulness, leanness is considered to be the norm, thus when one ages there is pressure to remain lean and slim).

2. Stigma of character blemish: e.g. mental illness, alcoholism/drug abuse, smoking, homosexuality, HIV, suicide. The point with this type of stigma is the assumption that the person is responsible for their “condition”, and should exercise self-control. As the individual is considered to wholly or at least partly responsible for their “condition” a moral judgement is usually linked to people with the “condition”.

3. Prejudice: Tribal in origin. Occurs when one group perceives features of race, religion, nationality, class of another group as deficient when compared with their own constructed norm.


Stigma is a discrepancy between what is desired and what is actual. The discrepancy spoils the social identity, isolates the person from societal and self-acceptance.

Saylor (2002) argues that feelings of shame and guilt are common feelings associated with stigma.

Guilt: emanating from self-criticism.
Shame: emanating from disapproval from others.

For example, an alcoholic mother may feel guilt in that she is unable to meet the needs of her children, and also experience the shame of condemnation for others for neglecting her children.

Illness as deviance

Scambler argues that when a person violates a set of laws, rules or social norms they and their behaviour and likely to be viewed as being deviant.

For example, consider how you may feel about the writing graffiti on the walls of the Radiography Department, or your house ---- You are likely to see it as an outrage and see the perpetrators and their behaviour as being completely unacceptable, or deviant, who need to be stopped,...
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