Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, by Erving Goffman

Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity is THE seminal text on stigma and social identity, a complex subject that I am interested in two ways, trying to learn about social aspects by reading and trying out practical ways of counteracting negative issues.

It contains an illuminating excursion into the situation of persons who are unable to conform to standards that society calls normal. Disqualified from full social acceptance, we are stigmatized individuals. Physically deformed people, ex-mental patients, drug addicts, prostitutes, or those ostracized for other reasons must constantly strive to adjust to their precarious social identities.

Their image of themselves must daily confront and be affronted by the image which others reflect back to them. Read this book and you will discover what it means to be stigmatized.

Drawing extensively on autobiographies and case studies, sociologist Erving Goffman analyzes the stigmatized person's feelings about himself and his relationship to "normals". He explores the variety of strategies stigmatized individuals employ to deal with the rejection of others, and the complex sorts of information about themselves they project. In Stigma the interplay of alternatives the stigmatized individual must face every day is brilliantly examined by one of America's leading social analysts.

What are stigmata?

Goffman distinguishes three types of stigmata -- bodily deformations (including all kinds of physical varieties), deformed character (dominating or unnatural passion, weakness of willpower, rigid opinions, lack of honor, mental confusion, imprisonment, addiction, alcohol, radical political behavior et cetera) and phylogenetically or culturally assigned stigmata (religion,race, nation).

What are reactions of non stigmatized people?

First they are shocked. To avoid being shocked they construct an excuse. That excuse can take on ridiculous content and proportions. A stigma theory is constructed that is supposed to explain the inferiority of the stigmatized. Fear, aversion and revolting shame are rationalized to metaphors. Then, projection is used to yield "meaning" and "sense". These include statements such as "no one is disabled without higher reason, surely he did something terribly wrong" and "he must be pure evil - look at his deformed body".

Our stigma language contains words such as 'cripple', 'bastard' or 'idiot' - and these words are used widely without reflection of their actual context. The way these words are used shows that we tend to string imperfections together to a chain that is ultimately based on that one difference that we will portray as defect. That defect - which we assume - is then used to sometimes add supernatural powers. 'The blind has extraordinary powers and has a sixth sense' or 'other channels of special information channels'. We also tend to view peculiar reactions of a stigmatized person as expression of what we see as their defect. Both are then portrayed - in general public view, that is - as just revenge for whatever it was that she or he did, that her or his parents did, or that her or his ancestors or tribe did. We then assume a hidden or spiritual but nevertheless meaningful cause for the stigma. And that way, we justify the ugly ways we will then use to treat the stigmatized.

What are expectations regarding stigmatized people?

Members of any social category tend to support rigid expectations about the behavior of others that they believe does not directly affect them. A businessman may require women to act female and he may require monks to live an ascetic life - without implementing similarly strict requirements for his own behavior.

The difference lies in just supporting the notion of there being a norm for behavior, and in expecting to see that normed behavior being realized. Stigmatized individuals face the problem that 'normal' individuals really expect them to realize, actuate, carry out, conduct, live what they define as normed behavior.

[work in progress, check back later for more]

Citing this book:

 title={Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity},
 author={Goffman, E.},

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: - Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, by Erving Goffman; published 18/05/2009, 14:47; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1656619862, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{ - Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, by Erving Goffman}}, month = {May}, year = {2009}, url = {} }