Standing on the shoulders of Goffman: advancing a relational research agenda on stigma
Drawing from Goffman’s (1963) original observations on stigma and the consequences of interactions between the stigmatized and supportive or stigmatizing audiences, we conduct a 20-year review of the diverse literature on stigma to revisit the collective nature of stigmatization processes. We find that studies on stigma’s origins, responses, processes, and outcomes have diverged from Goffman’s relational view of stigma as they have overlooked important relational mechanisms explaining the processes of (de)stigmatization. We draw from those conclusions to justify the need to study stigma as a collective phenomenon. We develop a relational perspective on stigma based on understanding how attributes are stigmatized (or not) by audiences in their interactions. We argue that to advance stigma research, it is necessary to build on Goffman’s theory to include the stigmatizers (i.e., the normal) and supporters (i.e., the wise), how they create, sustain, or remove stigma, and how they relate to the stigmatized (i.e., the targets). Accordingly, we provide a research agenda on stigma as a collective phenomenon that theorizes a relational perspective, proposes a typology of how audiences relate to stigmatization, and identifies patterns of relations between audiences. We thus offer a missing piece to existing accounts of stigma by focusing on the key role of audiences (i.e., stigmatizers or supporters of the stigmatized) rather than on the targets of stigma (i.e., the own).