American Studies | Advanced Topics in A & H for AMST: Stigma, Culture, Deviance, Identity
A398 | 28743 | Seizer


Course meets with CMCL-C333

Cultural value systems in every society rely on sets of mutually
defining terms -- for example, normal/abnormal, able-bodied/disabled,
heterosexual/homosexual, white/non-white  -- that largely determine
local attitudes of acceptance or ostracism regarding particular
categories of persons. Focusing on social stigma allows us to
understand how specific cultural value systems affect our most
intimate senses of self, contribute to our very notions of
personhood, and inform the way we communicate and engage with others
in the world.

Stigma theory speaks broadly to the nature of the social
relationships that create marked categories of persons, regardless of
which particular attributes are devalued. In this class we look both
at theory and at particular cases of stigmatized persons and groups.
Attention to the particularities of a given stigma keys us in to the
cultural values that create and determine the contours of each case.
Since stigmas do (thankfully!) change over time, identifying
strategies that have been effective in fostering such change is a
primary focus of the course.

The theoretical centerpiece of the course is Erving Goffman’s 1963
study Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. We will
read this text closely both to appreciate Goffman’s myriad insights,
and to attempt to update them, and the language he uses to convey his
points, by applying his model to more recent historical and
ethnographic case studies of stigmatized persons and groups. Our
focus will be on the range and efficacy of the various strategies
available for managing and/or defying stigma.

The role of the expressive arts -- including novels, short stories,
films, and performance art -- in the life trajectories of stigmatized
persons and groups will be explored as one popular defiant strategy.
We focus in particular on artists and activists whose work addresses
contemporary cases of stigma. Weekly screenings of landmark films in
the fields of disability studies, black studies, queer studies,
gender studies, and India studies supplement regular class meetings;
viewing these films is a critical part of the course.