Resituating Goffman: From Stigma Power to Black Power

G51 European Research Institute
Wednesday 25 April 2018 (16:00-18:00)

Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology Lecture Series

Resituating Goffman: From Stigma Power to Black Power  
Professor Imogen Tyler, Professor of Sociology, Lancaster University

I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being, and therefore I have the right to go into any public place (Stokely Carmichael, 1966).

This paper offers a critical re-reading of the understanding of stigma forged by the North American sociologist Erving Goffman in his influential Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity (1963). One of the most widely read and cited sociologists in history, Goffman was already famous when Stigma was published in 1963. His previous books were best-sellers and Stigma alone has sold an astonishing 800,000 copies in the fifty years since its publication. Given its considerable influence, it is surprising how little sustained engagement there has been with the historicity of Goffman’s account. This paper resituates Goffman’s conceptualization of stigma within the historical context of Jim Crow and the black freedom struggles that were shaking "the social interaction order" to its foundations at the very moment he crafted his account. It is the contention of this paper that these explosive political movements against the ‘humiliations of racial discrimination’ invite revision of Goffman’s decidedly apolitical account of stigma (Robinson 2000: 318). This historical revision of Goffman’s stigma concept builds on existing body of critical work on ‘the relationship between race, segregation and the epistemology of sociology within the United States’ (Bhambra 2014). Throughout, it reads Goffman’s Stigma through the lens of ‘Black Sociology’, a field of knowledge that here designates not only formal sociological scholarship, but political manifestos, journalism, creative writing, oral histories and memoirs. It is the argument of this paper that placing Goffman’s concept of stigma into critical dialogue with black epistemologies of stigma allows for a timely reconceptualization of stigma as a governmental technology of ‘racialized capitalism’ (Robinson 2000).

The lecture will be followed by a free wine reception.  All welcome but please register via eventbrite to reserve your place.