Stigma: Irving Goffman
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I.                    Main Points, Organization, Goals, Conclusion


The main goal of Goffman was to provide the reader with a thorough explanation of the differences between social and personal identity in relation to stigmatized individuals and how those relationships are managed.


A.     Social Identity

1.      Preliminary Conceptions

        Defines stigma

        3 types- body, character, tribal

        social action and attitudes towards the stigmatized

        normal vs. stigmatized

-each has the same system of beliefs

        stigmatized response

-correction, secondary gains

        issue of mixed contacts

-same social situation

                                    2.  The Own and the Wise

        virtual vs. actual identity

        Own= those who share a stigma

        Group terms

        The professionally stigmatized

        Wise= normal but share a similar situation, related through social structure

3.       Moral Career

        the cause and effect of commitment to a similar sequence of personal adjustment

        similar experiences

-inborn stigma

-protective capsule

-late in life stigma

-socialized in an alien community

        feeling of ambivalence towards self

        community and organization relationship

        revelation or isolating experience

B.     Information Control and Personal Identity

1.       Discredited and Discreditable

        discrepancy between actual and virtual identity

2.      Social Information

        Information about an individual

        Symbols draw attention to a debasing indentity

        Prestige vs. stigma symbols


        Purpose to convey social information


3.      Visibility

        How well/ badly the stigma is adapted to show an individual possesses it

        Perceptibility/ evidentness


        Conception/ perceived focus

        Ex:  ugliness vs. diabetic condition


4.      Personal Identity

        Criminological, not psychological sense

        To know one “personally”

        Breaking through the handicap

        Tolerance and sustainability/ acceptance

        Management of social roles

        Uniqueness/ positive vs. negative

        Core of being

        Goffing- personal identity is positive marks or identity pegs and unique combination of life history items

        Disengagement such as name change

        Documentation- more accurate than a symbol

5.      Biography

        People are an entity which can build a record

        Only one

        Degree of “informational connectedness”

        Social vs. personal misrepresentation

        Social personality

        Information control

        Deviation from the norm

6.      Biographical Others

        Personal identity divides up the individual’s world of others

        Knowing vs. unknowing

        How much is known/ unknown

        Cognitive recognition- perceptual act of placing an individual

        Acquaintances vs. knowing personally

        Social recognition- communication ceremony

        Famous and infamous

        Formal social control

        Private vs. public recognition

7.      Passing

        Invisible stigma

        Everyone knowing vs. no one knowing

        What’s in between this ?

        Concealing of information

        Types of blackmail

-frame up

-pre blackmail

-self saving blackmail

-full (classic) blackmail

    Who knows of the stigma

    biographical discontinuity

    natural cycle of passing:



-passing for fun

-passing during non routine events

-passing during routine daily events

-disappearance (complete passing)

    learning to pass

    three possible places:  (partitioning by social identity)




    management of social and personal identity

    problems and consequences of passing:

-dependency to disclose information

-further elaboration of lies

-may cause other displays of stigma

-learning what normals really think

    the effect of identity control in relationships

    living on a leash

8.      Techniques of information control

        Contingencies faced in information management

        Conceal/ obliterate stigma symbols

        Present stigma as another attribute

        Keep confidants informed

        Cooperativeness among similarly stigmatized

        Physical distance

        Voluntary disclosure- information management leads to social management

-stigma symbol

-notes/ fleeting offerings

    Moral career

9.      Covering

        Visibility vs. obtrusiveness

        Reduces tension

        Concern of standards associated with stigma

        Restrict display of stigma

        Reconstitute conduct

C.     Group Alignment and Ego Identity

        Attempt to distinguish between social and personal identity

        Ego- subjective sense of his own situation, continuity, and character as a result of social experiences.

        Ego is a subjective, reflexive matter that must be felt by the individual

        Social identity- stigmatization

        Personal identity- information control

        Ego identity- feelings of stigma and management

1.      Ambivalence

        Acquired identity standards cause ambivalence

        Social alliances/ friends

        Relationship with normals

2.      Professional presentations

        Stigmatized defines himself as normal, but at the same time set apart ( self contradiction )

        Codes of revealing and concealing

        Warnings against normification

        Authenticity- to be real and worthy

        Causes stigmatized to be situation conscious


3.      In-Group Alignments

        Groups also influence stigmatized point of view

        Group of fellow sufferers

        Removed from reality and normals

4.      Out-Group Alignments

        Includes the normals and wider society

        Psychiatric voice

        Normals also have troubles

        Stigmatized should reduce tension w/ normals

        Acceptance may be conditional

        Good adjustment- implying the burden is not heavy nor has it made him different

        Phantom acceptance/ phantom normalcy

5.      The Politics of Identity

        In group- presents political phrasings

        Out group- psychiatric

        Acceptance of self



D.     The Self and Its Other

        Response of stigmatized to a situation

        Relates stigma to rest of the social world

1.      Deviations and Norms

        Place in social structure

        Social norms

        Maintaining norms is psychological integrity

        What is normal?  Young, white, protestant, married, etc. male

        Cooperation of stigmatized and normals

2.      The Normal Deviant

        Stigma management is a general feature of society

        Normal and stigmatized are from same place and same mental makeup

        Change from normal to stigmatized and vice versa

        Complementary roles

3.      Stigma and reality

        Stigmatized and normal are part of each other

        Two role social process where every individual participates in both roles

        Perspectives vs. persons

E.      Deviations and Deviance

        Deviator- not adhering to norms

        In group deviant

        Social deviants

        Fighting social acceptance



II.                 Author’s Background


Goffing was born in Canada in 1922 and was educated in the United States at the University of Chicago where he earned his PhD in sociology.  He then professed at Berkeley and Univ. of Pennsylvania.  He received numerous awards and wrote many books.


III.               Nature of Information


Goffing uses many examples in his writing from sources such as biographies and autobiographies of stigmatized persons.  He also uses ideas from other sociologists and doctors.  Most of the examples are from the 1950’s and 1960’s, taken right before this book was written.


IV.              Quality of Reasoning, Further comments, Beliefs


I really enjoyed the organizational layout of Goffing’s book.  It followed a simple pattern and was labeled easily.  I also enjoyed the examples that are included since they help me to further understand Goffing’s reasoning.  Although some of the examples seemed outdated, many seemed to still play a crucial role in the stigmatized today.  I thought that Goffing left out an important part of stigmatization and that is a type of hierarchy I see it following.  Not all stigmas have as much importance placed on them and I would have liked to see that mentioned.  I also thought Goffing could have talked more about how normal is defined.  If you think about it, we could all be stigmatized in some way.  For example, I have blond hair.  Some people may view my hair color as a sign of the Arayan race or that I am dumb.  But most people wouldn’t think twice about my hair color.

I think this book is something everyone would benefit from reading.  I have a grandfather who had a nervous breakdown and an uncle who died of AIDS in the 1980’s.  They aren’t really things that are to be openly discussed with my family although they are constantly in our minds.  Reading this book gave me a better understanding about the role that society and personal identity plays with these unfortunate occurrences. 


V.                 Relationship to Class


The biggest theme in this book that I think relates to this class is that of patriarchy.  Goffing’s style really seems to revolve around the theme that the male is the center.  He often uses examples of how it would be an embarrassment for the wife of a mental patient if the neighbors were to find out, or other such similar things.  His example of what normal is describes a white male. 

I also think that Foucault would tend to look at deviants vs. stigmatized as a whole rather than two separate entities.  He really focuses on the big picture.

Goffing also mentions the difference of the private and public sphere which is a classic theme in body issues. 


Lindsey Friedmann