Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Ethnographers have long excelled at observing the effects and lived experience of stigma (Bernays et al. 2017, Estroff 1981, Goffman 1961, Jackson 2005, Warin 2010) although little effort has been made in anthropology to connect these experiences to ethics. In response, Kleinman and Hall-Clifford (2009) invited anthropologists to theorise the moral processes that undergird stigma almost a decade ago but “stigma” as both a discourse and a social process (Parker and Aggleton 2003) continues to prove an elusive quarry for the discipline. This panel seeks to mitigate this discrepancy in the literature, asking: “what happens when we conceptualise stigma in broader terms, as a social and ethical process as well as psychological and individual phenomenon”?
Sociologists, in recent years, have produced a wide array of literature exploring stigma in practice. Notably, Tyler and Slater’s (2018) call for scholarship to reconceptualise stigma within a cultural and political economy that can better produce understandings of problems of inequality and discrimination acts as a jumping off point from which we begin to theorise stigma. Anthropology’s attunement to local understandings can reveal more about both the distinctive features of and universal circumstances enabling this form of relationality.
This panel thinks beyond stigma as normatively “immoral” and towards theorising it as an enacted and embodied form of situational ethics determined by the temporal and spatial particularities of unequal power dynamics. We explore converging moralities and stigmas in a myriad of diverse contexts. Topics explored within our panel include discussions about the ubiquity of dementia and stigma’s contradictions; psychotherapists and clients’ collaborative efforts to manage the stigma of narcissistic personality disorder; stigma management among HIV-positive people within development programs in post-conflict northern Uganda; strategic use of stigmatization by NGOs towards drug users and sex workers in Pakistan; and the politics of midwifery in Mexico.
Such a diverse collection of ethnographically-grounded papers offers anthropology the possibility of a fresh understanding of stigma that takes seriously claims to power, privilege, and representation.