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Stigma: a social, cultural and moral process
  1. Arthur Kleinman1,
  2. Rachel Hall-Clifford2
  1. 1
    Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2
    Department of Anthropology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Professor Arthur Kleinman, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, William James Hall Room 330, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA; kleinman{at}

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The concept of stigma has undergone important shifts in definition and characterisation since its initial articulation by Erving Goffman in the 1960s. Here, we contend that the study of stigma has focused too heavily on psychological approaches and has neglected to sufficiently incorporate understandings of stigma and stigmatised individuals as embedded in local moral contexts. What exactly is encompassed by the conceptual umbrella of stigma is far more than a compelling theoretical question, since definitions of stigma directly inform efforts to empirically research and combat stigma.

The modern idea of stigma owes a great deal to Goffman, who viewed stigma as a process based on the social construction of identity. Persons who become associated with a stigmatised condition thus pass from a “normal” to a “discredited” or “discreditable” social status.1 In his original discussion of stigma, Goffman included both psychological and social elements, but his ideas have primarily been used in the analysis of the psychological impact of stigma on individuals. This has created an understanding of the psychology of the stigmatised, focusing on the …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.