Important Definitions

An Introduction to the
Stigmatization Process
Anthropology 393 – Cultural
Construction of HIV/AIDS
Josephine MacIntosh
Important Definitions
 Prejudice: Attitudes
which inform cognitive
representations (stereotypes) of other individuals
or groups based on their social position
(Biernat & Dovidio, 2000)
 Stereotypes:
Oversimplified cognitive conceptions
or beliefs about individuals who belong to a
particular social group or category. Rigid
‘caricaturizations’, often with little basis in reality
(Dovidio, Major & Crocker, 2000)
Important Definitions
 Stigma: Characteristic(s) that ostracizes a person from
‘normal’ society and decrease life chances
(Link & Phelan, 2001)
 Discrimination: Actions by others that further reduce
life chances by limiting access to jobs, education,
earnings, housing, healthcare, etc (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 1999)
stigma and discrimination: Attaches itself to
pre-existing stigmas, to racial stereotypes, or to stigma
against sexual minorities (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 1999)
Goffman’s 3 Types of Stigma
Abominations of the body: physical disfigurement,
readily apparent, known at first glance
 Blemishes of individual character: inferred from known
records (e.g:, history of mental illness or incarceration), or
experience, may be less apparent
 Tribal stigma of race, nation and religion: hereditary
stigmas have the unique potential to discredit entire
families, may also be less visible
(Goffman, 1963)
Social Identity
Social identity (rather than social status) includes
personal characteristics (such as honesty) as well as
social attributes (such as occupation)
Virtual social identity: based on assumptions
 Actual social identity: based on experience
Congruence  normal social interactions
 Incongruence  disrupted social interactions
(Goffman, 1963)
Dimensions of Stigma
 Concealability:
Obvious or hidden?
 Course: Acute? Chronic? Fatal?
 Disruptiveness: Interaction uncertain?
 Aesthetic qualities: Fear? Disgust?
 Origin: Guilty? Innocent? Defenseless?
 Peril: Contagious? Highly infectious?
(Jones et al., 1984; Goffman, 1963)
Origins of Stigma
“Stigma develops out of an initial, universally
held motivation to avoid danger, followed by an
(often exaggerated) perception of characteristics
that promote threat, accompanied by a social
sharing of these perceptions with others.
Moreover… stigmas exist primarily in the minds
of stigmatizers and stigmatized individuals as
cultural social constructions…”
(Stangor & Crandall, 2000:62-3)
Stereotypes and Prejudices
Functional theories: for personal benefit
Cognitive economy, self-enhancement, to protect self
from harm
Describe initial impetus for stigma, but not stigma categories
Perceptual: direct observation + cognitive distortion
Belief creation
Illusory correlations between erroneously paired unique
 Unusual associated with negative
Differences exaggerated thru cognitive biases
Stereotypes and Prejudices
 Consensual:
to explain conformity among beliefs
 Social
 Communication
 no
need for direct experience or cognitive simplicity
 How
socially acceptable is it to hold negative attitudes?
 Repetition of cultural norms
 Reflect conformity not individual personality constructs
 does
not fully explain the origins of stigma
A Biocultural Framework
Highly interdependent, cooperative groups had an
evolutionary advantage
 Forming and maintaining functional groups (generally
kinships) became a primary human survival strategy
 The functionality of a given group depended on sharing,
cooperation, mutual investment, and trust
 Reciprocal prosocial behaviour would enhance chances
for survival
(Neuberg, Smith & Asher, 2000)
A Biocultural Framework
Reciprocal, prosocial behaviour would become
normative within groups
 Physical or behavioural characteristics that violate
groups standards are seen as a threat
Disability Vs. deliberate exploitation of others for personal
Non-reciprocation based on disability generally less
stigmatizing than purposive disregard for group norms
A Biocultural Framework
Groups are built on a foundation of trust
 Breeches of trust are perceived as threats
Groups thrive when members adhere to social
rules and scripts that allow coordinated social
action and interaction
Liars, cheaters, thieves, traitors = significant threat to grp function
Unpredictable and incompetent are stigmatized
Survival of group requires reproductive fitness
Those exhibiting genetic weakness, behaviours which threaten
reproduction, or symptoms of contagious disease are stigmatized
A Biocultural Framework
In-groups Vs. Out-groups
 Difference in quality of interactions
In-groups: characterized by cooperation, evolutionary
advantage benefits all groups members
 Out-groups: compete with one another, evolutionary
advantage goes to one groups or the other
Threat from competing groups sets in motion the
mechanisms of stigmatization
Based on group membership rather that individual behaviours
and characteristics
A Biocultural Framework
 Continuance of group depends on trust, sharing,
cooperation and mutual investment
 Functionality and reproductive fitness depends
on conformity to social norms
 Deviation from group norms perceived as threat
Implications for HIV/AIDS
 Concealable,
fatal, socially disruptive, elicits fear and
disgust of the guilty, is seen as perilous
 Seen as bad for ‘the group’
 Is
behaviour that is ‘adaptive’ or ‘natural’ from
evolutionary standpoint right or justifiable in
contemporary society?
 Especially
if we have ways to reduce contact, reduce
infectivity and possibly reduce susceptibility?