Reconceptualizing Stigma: Toward a Critical Anti-Oppression Paradigm

Lynn C. Holley, Layne K. Stromwall, Kathy E. Bashor

Abstract


Theorists concerned with mental health prejudice and discrimination have conceptualized these problems as stigma, typically defined as a labeling process that triggers stereotyping, followed by acts of discrimination that result in loss of status and reduced life options for people who are perceived to have mental illnesses (Goffman, 1963; Link & Phelan, 2001). Other stigma theorists have advocated for a social justice perspective (e.g., Corrigan, Watson, Byrne, & Davis, 2005; Perlin & Dorfman, 1993) or have recognized the need to consider meso- and macro-level factors (Pescosolido, Martin, Lang, & Olafsdottir, 2008) or structural arrangements (e.g., Corrigan, Markowitz, & Watson, 2004). Informed by critical theories and oppression literature, this paper offers theoretical arguments for replacing the current stigma model with a critical anti-oppression paradigm. This paradigm expands our lens to emphasize transforming the power dynamics inherent in system-level arrangements and structures that privilege those who are perceived as not having mental illnesses while disadvantaging others who are perceived to have mental illnesses. We conclude with implications of this paradigm for practice and research.


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