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In sociology, stigmatization is understood as a process by which individuals classify certain other individuals into a certain category of position holders,

  • through the attribution of characteristics and properties that can be discredited;
  • by discrediting characteristics and properties that can be discredited;
  • by discrediting existing, visible features and properties.

If a person or a group of people is characterized by others by socially or group-specific negatively assessed characteristics, they are thereby discriminated in social terms .

A stigma ( Greek στίγμα for stab , wound mark ) is an undesirable difference to what we would have expected. A stigma is a generalization of a specific act or characteristic of a person to their overall character. The stigma gives the person a status that stands out from their other characteristics.

Erving Goffman saw stigma as an example of the gap between what a person should be (their virtual social identity ) and their real social identity, i.e. i.e. what it really is.


Originally intended for stigmatization were real corporal punishments for the purpose of public ostracism, such as shearing hair (for fornication) or the beard or cutting off the ears (for loss of honor) up to modern times, and in some places in the legal circle of Sharia today still cutting off a person Hand (for theft). In France galley convicts or deportees were branded with the French lily for life. A well-known example of the 20th century was the identification of prisoners in several concentration camps by tattooing a prisoner number on their left arm during the Nazi era .

The social stigma as a brand marks a conspicuous feature that, as an expression of the devaluation of individuals or groups, can be the cause and consequence of social marginalization .

Therefore, so-called fringe groups are usually affected, who have common, negatively assessed characteristics that differentiate them from other members of society (see also prejudice , cliché ). This results in a vicious circle : marginalized groups are stigmatized, stigmatization leads to exclusion and the formation of marginalized groups.

Erving Goffman suspects that the stigmatization processes "have a general societal function - namely to seek support for society from those who are not supported by society." It is a reaction to unfulfilled norm expectations, as this creates the common norms far beyond those, which they fully satisfy, can be sustained.

Examples of social stigmata were or are the existence of a criminal record , homelessness , physical or mental disabilities , mental disorders , diseases (e.g. leprosy , HIV / AIDS ), but also sexual orientation or belonging to a certain nationality , religion or Ethnic group , as was often the case with " gypsies ".

In a more subtle way, poverty also becomes a social stigma, for example when it is characterized as a lack of willingness to perform, when the blame for poverty is sought solely in personal failure, when those affected projectively a rest in the clearly ideologically postulated, but actually non-existent 'social' Hammock 'is assumed, for example for the unemployed . A visible feature is, for example, the clothing of the person concerned, from which the social status can be read for everyone (see also sociology ). The working class youth culture of the Mods in England wanted to counteract this visible stigmatization by demonstratively wearing expensive clothing and imitating the upper class.

The human rights in the tradition of the European Enlightenment contradict u. a. the stigmatization of people and should counteract it.

Stigma research

In stigma research, the processes that lead to stigmatization are investigated on the one hand, and the ways in which those affected by stigmatization deal with the stigma on the other (stigma management). A basic distinction is made here between stigmatization on a social and an individual level.

As a method for determining the extent of stigmatization, the measurement of the desired " social distance " has proven to be a frequently used method: The examined persons are asked whether they have someone with the specific stigmatization characteristic (e.g. a mental illness) as a tenant, Would accept neighbors or babysitters. In-depth questions are asked whether the person questioned would marry into a family in which people with the specific stigmatization characteristic live, or whether the person examined would accept such people in their social circle or recommend them as employees.

Goffman develops a typology of dealing with stigmata in everyday life. He differentiates between different forms of interaction such as disclosure, repression, compensation, and the use of legal protection mechanisms. In the case of invisible stigma features (e.g. previous prison sentence, gambling debts), a person concerned decides on confidentiality or disclosure . Depending on the addressee, both can have both unfavorable and favorable effects. Stigma management (ignoring the stigma, empathy , avoidance of stigma carriers, etc.) is also carried out on the side of the interaction partners of people threatened by stigmatization .

Comparative studies on the stigmatization of mentally ill people in Nigeria and Germany showed that stigmatization is to be expected much less frequently in Germany than in Nigeria, which could be due to the better level of information about these diseases in Germany. On the other hand, the results of a research by a Zurich research group indicate that experts who are particularly well informed about the facts hardly differ in their response behavior with regard to social distance from the average population. These results have reinforced critical questions about the role model and function of psychiatrists in preventing and combating stigmatization of the mentally ill.

Concept history

In the Christian (especially Catholic) environment, stigmatization describes the wearing of the wounds of Christ (stigmata). At various pilgrimage sites where Christ statues are venerated, miracles are said to occur every now and then, in which the stigmata allegedly start to bleed.

According to Goffman, who essentially coined the term "stigma", the term can be derived as follows:

The Greeks [...] created the term stigma as a reference to physical signs that were intended to reveal something unusual or bad about the moral condition of the person carrying the sign. These signs, burned or cut into the body, were immediately recognizable, which made it possible to quickly and unambiguously identify the person as stigmatized, i.e. as a ritually declared unclean person who should be avoided (slave, criminal, traitor).

In Christianity the meaning of the term has been expanded to include two things:

  1. as a sign of divine grace, which broke open in the form of flowers on the skin,
  2. Relation to physical signs of physical disagreement.

Today “stigma” is used again approximately to its original meaning, but more related to the dishonor itself than to its physical appearance. The types of dishonor have also changed.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Stigma  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Erving Goffman: Stigma. About techniques of coping with damaged identity. Frankfurt 1974, p. 56 ff.
  2. Detlef Baum: Relative Deprivation and Political Participation. Social structural conditions for political participation. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Las Vegas. 1978, ISBN 3-261-02514-X , p. 25.
  3. ^ Erving Goffman: Stigma, Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York 1963, p. 6.
  4. "Stigma". In: Wolfgang J. Koschnik: Standard dictionary for the social sciences. Volume 2, Munich London New York Paris 1993, ISBN 3-598-11080-4 .
  5. ^ Erving Goffman: Stigma, Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York 1963, p. 138.
  6. ^ Benjamin Marius Schmidt, Gesa Ziemer: Vulnerable Places. On the aesthetics of other bodies on stage ( memento of the original from January 31, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF file; 1.86 MB),, January 19, 2004, version: March 1, 2006- @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. Kristin Kahl: Discrimination. Jena Institute examines the social significance of HIV. In: Deutsches Ärzteblatt. Volume 117, Issue 3, January 17, 2020, p. B 76.
  8. W. Gaebel et al. a., Public attitudes towards people with mental illness in six German cities. Results of a public survey under special consideration of schizophrenia. In: Eur. Arch. Psychiatry Clin. Neurosci., No. 252, 2002, pp. 278-287 and AO Adewuya et al. a., Social distance towards people with mental illness amongst Nigerian university students. In: Soc. Psychiatry Psychiatr. Epidemiol., Vol. 40, 2005, pp. 865-868.
  9. See Erving Goffman: Stigma. About techniques of coping with damaged identity. Frankfurt am Main, 1967 Orig. 1963], p. 9.
  10. ibid