Stigma was defined by Goffman (1963) as “an attribute that is deeply discrediting” and an attitude involving negative social evaluation that taints, discredits, or leads someone to reject a person due to mental illness, race, drug use, marital status or physical disability stereotypes. One of the preliminary conclusions of Goffman ( 1963) is that society establishes the conditions under which stigmatisation occurs. In terms of qualities that are considered common and normal, culture teaches us to categorise others. When we meet anyone, we judge them in terms of whether they “fit” into an anticipated category or not. This was called a virtual social identity by Goffman, since it contains all the attributes we expect an individual to have, which is our reflection of what we think they should be. This may or may not stand in contrast to the actual social identity of the individual that consists of the real attributes of the person. Another tentative theory regarding stigmatisation is that it is fundamentally afflicted with negative consequences, in addition to being cultivated by culture. Based on the beliefs that a stigmatized individual is flawed and inferior, they are denied full social acceptance, are subjected to discrimination and prejudice, and generally receive disproportionately negative interpersonal and economic outcomes (see Crocker & Major, 1989).
Stafford and Scott(1986) indicated that, “stigma is a characteristic or a norm of a social unit” where “a norm” is defined as a “shared belief that a person ought to behave in a certain way at a certain time”(p. 86). Crocker and Major (1989) propose that’ stigmatised people have (or are assumed to possess) some characteristic or attribute that conveys a social identification that is in a certain social sense, devalued “(p. 505). Stigma was further identified as involving personal attitudes and beliefs, secrecy and disclosure, and social and cultural influences by Austin, MacLeod, Dunn, Shen, & Perkins (2004). The construct is defined by Link and Phelan (2001) as the co-occurrence of its construct, which involves labelling, stereotyping, separation, [that leads to] loss of status and discrimination, as well as power . He further stressed that only with the imposition of power would there be stigmatisation. From a social point of view, stigma is a label that, on the basis of a socially conferred opinion, distinguishes individuals that certain people are viewed as distinct or “less than.” Martin et al. (2008) described stigma as the existence of negative attitudes (prejudice) and predispositions (discriminatory potential) to exclude others on the basis of their problems. Furthermore, he reiterates that stigma also endorses negative views or assumptions as valid and a tendency to exclude or prevent stigmatised individuals (Martin et al., 2008). There are several other definitions of stigma as highlighted above, and the definition of Martin et al is of my interest.
Stigma has been synonymous with the most negative of terms and carried brutal consequences. These negative effects include social rejection, barriers to employment, poverty, poor self-perception, depression, anxiety, and increased risk for substance abuse to name a few.
It is interesting if I am able to explore the concept of stigma, looking at how these negative attitudes leads to the exclusion of others.
How accountable and responsible are we with our words and thoughts? In an age in which our power to communicate is at an all-time high, our words are powerful.
And with that power comes responsibility.