A Critical Review of Erving Goffman’s “Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity”
In his work “Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity”, Erving Goffman presents a theoretical and conceptual overview of the ways in which deviance and social order are reproduced in everyday life. Drawing from a wide range of sources, including Sociology, Social Psychology, and Anthropology, Goffman’s book has become a classic text in the field of Deviance Studies. In this essay, I will provide a critical review of Goffman’s work, with a focus on its implications for research on stigma and identity management. I will begin by outlining the major theoretical and conceptual foundations of Goffman’s work, before moving on to discuss his research methods and findings. I will conclude by assessing the contribution of “Stigma” to our understanding of how deviance is managed in contemporary society.
2. Theoretical and Conceptual Overview of Goffman’s Stigma
-The Concept of Stigma
Goffman defines stigma as “an attribute that is deeply discrediting” (p. 3). He argues that stigma is a form of deviance that results in an individual being “discredited” in the eyes of others. This may be due to physical or mental disabilities, criminal behaviour, or membership of a despised social group (such as prostitutes or drug addicts). Goffman argues that stigma not only affects the individuals who are stigmatized, but also their families and social networks. He suggests that stigma can lead to social isolation and exclusion, as well as to discrimination in employment, education, and housing.
-Goffman’s Symbolic Interactionist Approach
Goffman’s work is informed by Symbolic Interactionism, a sociological perspective that emphasizes the role of symbols in shaping human behaviour. Symbolic Interactionism is concerned with how people interact with each other and interpret the world around them. Goffman argue that humans are constantly engaged in a process of making meaning out of their experiences. He suggests that our lives are shaped by the symbols we use to communicate with each other, and that these symbols can have a powerful impact on our behaviour. In his view, stigma is a symbol that can be used to devalue an individual or group in society.
-Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations
Goffman draws upon a range of theoretical and conceptual resources in developing his analysis of stigma. These include Social Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology. In particular, he makes use of Social Psychologist Harold Kelley’s (1952) notion of the “social self”, which posits that individuals have multiple selves which they present to different social groups. For example, an individual may present themselves differently at work than they do at home. Goffman also relies heavily upon sociological concepts such as role theory and labeling theory. Role theory posits that individuals occupy different roles in society (such as parent, employee, or student), each of which comes with its own set of expectations and behaviours. Labeling theory suggests that deviant behaviour is not inherent in individuals, but is instead socially constructed through the process of labeling. According to this perspective, individuals who are labelled as “deviant” are likely to internalize this label and come to see themselves as deviant. This can lead to further deviant behaviour as they attempt to live up to their negative label.
The major themes of Goffman’s work include identity, deviance, and social order. In particular, he is interested in how stigma is used to manage deviance and maintain social order. He also discusses the ways in which families and other social groups deal with stigma, and the implications of stigma for individual identity.
3. Research Methods
Goffman’s work is primarily theoretical and conceptual in nature. However, he does make use of some empirical data to support his claims. For example, he cites several case studies of individuals who have been stigmatized, including a deaf man, a blind woman, and a former psychiatric patient. He also draws upon surveys and other quantitative data to support his claims about the prevalence of stigma in society. In general, however, Goffman’s work is not empirical in nature.
Goffman’s work has a number of important implications for our understanding of stigma and identity management. First, he highlights the role of symbols in shaping human behaviour. He suggests that symbols can be used to devalue an individual or group in society. Second, he emphasizes the importance of family and social networks in managing deviance. He argues that stigma can lead to social isolation and exclusion, as well as to discrimination in employment, education, and housing. Finally, he argues that stigma is a form of deviance that results in an individual being “discredited” in the eyes of others. This may be due to physical or mental disabilities, criminal behaviour, or membership of a despised social group (such as prostitutes or drug addicts).
In conclusion, Goffman’s work provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of how deviance is managed in contemporary society. His conceptual and theoretical analysis of stigma has been highly influential, and his work remains relevant to sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists today.