American Studies | Colloquium in AMST-Stigma: Culture, Deviance, Identity
G620 | 15958 | Seizer

Course meets with  – CMCL 706

Prof. Susan Seizer

Office phone: 812-856-1986

Course Description:

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 American studies, disability studies, black studies,
queer studies, gender studies, women’s studies and India studies
supplement regular class meetings; viewing these films is a critical
part of the course.