Goffman's Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity is one of the most artistic pieces of work. Goffman's choice of the epistolary style (an epistle from one "desperate" to one "Lonelyhearts") to introduce his work is compelling and entertaining.
Goffman's work on Stigmas definitely deserves appreciation. Goffman broadly defines stigma as the condition when a particular person is excluded from full societal reception. Goffman also expresses stigma as any feature that is greatly discrediting. Goffman's broad-based definition moves away from the usual definition that seems to focus solely on a particular stigmatized attribute and urges people to understand those social interactions that transform a simple trait into a stigma. One's understanding of stigma, according to Goffman, must move beyond a stigmatized individual and specifically concern the shared composition of stigmas.
An interesting thing to note about stigma, as Goffman comprehends it, is the fact that the stigmatized individual must take into consideration the other people's or "the normals'" opinion about them and must try to discover the social norms they do not submit to.
I subscribe to Goffman's argument that stigmas are in some way sociological. For example, whenever an individual is identified as having a mental illness, he/she is seen in a different kind of light. Most of the time, the stigmas (mental illnesses) have an unfavorable connotation attached to it. Societies' negative view on mental illnesses creates a myriad of setbacks in diagnosing and treatment of the mental disorders. That is why, according to Goffman, the society needs to abandon their negative perception of such stigmas. In other words, Goffman points that the people need to embrace and live among stigma-bearing individuals as if they do not bear any shame at all.
Goffman's definition of stigma as a blend of mental and physical, visible and invisible, is indeed valid. In his definition, he gives three interesting typologies of stigmas that are widespread today. The first ones are the stigmas of character, to which he refers as blemishes of individual character or moral failings; these are perceived as a weak will, domineering, or as unnatural passions and dishonesty. Such stigmas are often inferred from a known record, for instance, mental disorder, substance addiction, homosexuality, and others. Another stigma is a physical one denoted by Goffman as abominations of the body and it refers to physical deformities of the body.
Goffman also points to another form of stigma people have not been paying attention to: the stigma that arises from one coming from a particular race, religion, nation and ethnic background. Goffman terms this form of stigma as tribal stigma. This form of stigma is passed from one generation to another. Historically, many white people saw black ones as ailment transferors and barbarians. Other white people, particularly during the reign of Nazi in Germany, believed that Jews were naturally malevolent and scrounging. Such an attitude often led to discrimination and enslaving or exterminating of stigmatized groups.
From Goffman's in-depth and insightful writing on stigma, one can learn monumental lessons and principles that guide in dealing with different forms of stigma and self-identity. Goffman successfully explained the following principles to others: firstly, the stigmatized may opt to follow disclosure etiquette through making their disabilities a topic for serious conversations; for example, they should be speakers in public forums to demystify the negative perception held against their social position in the society. Secondly, Goffman suggests that the stigmatized should deal with intrusive questions and allow others to help them. Thirdly, while in a mixed social situation, the stigmatized should see him/herself as a "normal" to put "the normals at ease. It is also important for people to avoid demeaning vocabularies in a mixed social situation. Such words as "deaf", or "blind" should be replaced by euphemistic words such as "hard of hearing".
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