5062.0: Wednesday, November 15, 2000 - 9:00 AM

Abstract #8926

The Stigma Process: Reconceiving the Definition of Stigma

Bruce G. Link, PhD, Mailman School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology, Columbia University, 100 Haven Ave. #20H, New York, NY 10032, 212-928-0631, bgl1@columbia.edu and Jo C. Phelan, PhD, Mailman School of Public Health, Division of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University, 600 W 168th St, New York, NY 10032.

Goffman defined stigma as an "attribute that is deeply discrediting" that reduces the bearer "from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one." Since Goffman, alternative definitions have varied considerably. Two reasons for this variation are that the concept has been applied to an enormous array of different circumstances -- from schizophrenia to exotic dancing -- and that it has been studied from the perspective of many disciplines. We attempt to advance the study of stigma by proposing a definition that encompasses these differences and that attends to important critiques noting that much theory about stigma is uninformed by the lived experience of the people being studied and that research on stigma has an individualistic focus, viewing stigmas as something in the person rather than a designation that others affix to the person. We conceptualize stigma as a process. It begins when dominant groups distinguish human differences -- whether "real" or not. It continues if the observed difference is believed to connote unfavorable information about the designated persons. As this occurs, social labeling of the observed difference is achieved. Labeled persons are set apart in a distinct category that separates "us" from "them." The culmination of the stigma process occurs when designated differences lead to various forms of disapproval, rejection, exclusion and discrimination. The stigma process is entirely contingent on access to social, economic and political power that allows the identification of differentness, the construction of stereotypes, the labeling of persons as different and the execution of disapproval and discrimination.

Learning Objectives: Our goal is to offer for the audience's consideration a new conceptualization of stigma which emphasizes power relationships between groups of people

Keywords: Mental Illness, Social Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
Organization/institution whose products or services will be discussed: None
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

The 128th Annual Meeting of APHA