Communication and Culture | Stigma: Culture, Deviance, Identity
C333 | 28830 | Seizer, S.
TuTh, 11:15 AM-12:30 PM, C2 100
Required film screening: W, 7:15 PM-10:15 PM, WY 005
Meets with AMST-A 398
Fulfills College A&H Requirement
Instructor: Susan Seizer
Office: C2 223
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, as attention to the particularities of a given stigma keys
us in to the cultural values that create and support it. Since
stigmas do change over time, identifying strategies that have been
effective in creating such change is a primary focus of the course.
The theoretical centerpiece of this course is Erving Goffman’s 1963
study Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. We will
read this text closely to appreciate Goffman’s insights, and attempt
throughout the semester 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
Primary texts: The following nine paperback books are available for
purchase at the campus bookstore. In addition, there is at least one
copy of each on 1-day reserve at the Wells library reserve desk,
located in the Kent-Cooper room.
• Goffman,Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of
Spoiled Identity. Simon & Schuster.
• Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the
Judgment of Taste. Harvard U Press.
• Dreger, Alice. 2004. One of Us: conjoined twins and the
future of the normal.
• Bogdan, Robert. 1988. Freak Show. U of Chicago Press.
• Groce, Nora Ellen. 1985. Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language.
Harvard U Press
• Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2006. Never Let Me Go. Vintage.
• Feinberg, Leslie. 1993. Stone Butch Blues. NY: Firebrand
• Weschler, Lawrence. 1995. Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder. NY: