Rethinking the Sociology of Stigma in the transition to postwelfare states

I am delighted and honoured to have been awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize, which means that from September 2015 I will have some relief from my day job (teaching and administration) for three years to focus on my new research project on stigma and inequalities (click on link to see my previous longer blog ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ which explains some of the ideas and impetus behind this new project).

Why research stigma today?

All the major institutions of ‘free-market’ capitalism have warned that escalating inequalities (of income, health and education) pose the gravest threat to future social and political stability. The premise of this project is that to combat this threat we require a much better understanding of relationship between stigmatisation, inequalities and capitalism—that is we urgently need to theorise stigma as a cultural and political economy.

Stigma is one of the most frequently used but least developed concepts in the social sciences. Although stigma is employed to describe a vast array of scapegoating practices and shameful identities, deeper theoretical understandings of stigma are frequently absent from sociological analysis. Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1964) was pivotal in the emergence of a sociology of stigma, yet it is striking how little understandings of stigma have developed in the intervening 50 years. Further, the centrality of stigma in producing economic and social inequalities has been obscured ‘because bodies of research pertaining to specific stigmatized statuses have generally developed in separate domains’ (Hatzenbuehler, 2013). In short, stigma is widely accepted to be a major factor in determining life chances, yet research on stigma is fragmented and dispersed across academic disciplines. This research project will produce a new theoretical account of stigma, to address this lacuna and to consider the relationship between growing inequalities and ‘heightened stigmatization in daily life and public discourse’ (Wacquant, 2010). The project has the following aims:

  • develop a new social theory/sociology of stigma
  • examine the relationship between stigmatisation and escalating inequalities
  • consider ‘behaviour change’ policies through the lens of stigma
  • deepen understanding of the role of stigma in generating a ‘post-welfare’ consensus

Outcomes from this project will include:·

  • The establishment of an interdisciplinary research network on Stigma & Inequality
  • A monograph: The Stigma Doctrine (provisional title)·
  • A special journal issue: ‘Sociology of Stigma’ (to be edited with Tom Slater)
  • Three peer-reviewed articles

What distinguishes this project from existing research is its explicit focus on stigmatization as a central dimension of neoliberal state-crafting. The project will focus in particular on welfare reform, the neoliberal de/recomposition of class, poverty, work and dis/abilities.

In due course there will be a new wordpress site with blog updates, events and findings from this research project as it develops.

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  1. Stephen Crossley

    Superb news, Imogen. Well played!


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