Is it Time to Retire the Term Stigma?

Amir Tal


The term stigma has undergone a number of re conceptualizations since it was first popularized by Goffman (1963) to refer to a mark of shame.  Since that time, the term has become common parlance to refer to socially undesirable conditions or affiliations. 

The term ‘stigma’ has been used throughout the academic literature to refer to a wide range of social and psychological processes ranging from cognitive and attitudinal processes (Corrigan, Markowitz, Watson, Rowan, & Kubiak, 2003) to the structural elements that create and maintain social inequity and oppression (Link & Phelan, 2001).  However, not everyone is comfortable with the term stigma or its connotations.  Critics have argued that it places a heavy focus on the characteristics of the stigmatized and not enough focus on the social and structural mechanisms that create and maintain discrimination (Everett, 2004).  Recently, several governmental and non-governmental organizations have called to retire the term stigma, instead favouring terms such as discrimination or social oppression.  Following these voices, Stigma Research and Action called for papers debating this issue.  In this issue we present four commentaries that address this debate from different perspectives.  We hope that they will provoke thought and discussion. 


Corrigan, P., Markowitz, R., Watson, Q., Rowan, D., & Kubiak, M. (2003). An Attribution Model of Public Discrimination Towards Persons with Mental Illness. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44(2), 162-179.

Everett, B. (2004). Best Practices in Workplace Mental Health: An Area for Expanded Research. HealthcarePapers, 5(2), 114-116.

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (2001). Conceptualizing Stigma. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 363-385. soc.27.1.363.

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