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This collection is the fruit of the papers presented and discussed during Minary Conference on "Golden Pond." The organizers of the conference and editors of the volume declare that the papers collected "represent our shared view on the topics of importance to the social psychological understanding of stigma" (xi). While the papers may treat of topics as to whose importance there is a consensus, their content is less clearly something that there is a unified perspective on.
Stigmatization involves the recognition of some difference in a person (distinguishing mark) and consequent devaluation of that person. The book is divided into three parts. The first part focuses on the process of stigmatization from the perspective of the one who stigmatizes (the "perceiver"); the central question is: Why do people stigmatize? The second part looks at the process from the perspective of the target; the central question is: What are the short-term and lasting effects of stigma on the stigmatized? The third part looks at the interaction between the two. A fourth part of the book (about the broader social context of stigmatization) would be forthcoming were this a book about the sociology not about the social psychology of stigma.
The collection begins with an interesting paper by Neuberg, Smith and Asher who use an evolutionary perspective to try to answer the question why people stigmatize others. It is indeed striking that even while stigmatization may take many forms depending on culture, it is nonetheless a fact that stigmatization as such is a cross-cultural phenomenon. The authors' answer is that there are evolutionary benefits at stake. Group living is, and has been, advantageous to human beings. Through sharing and cooperation individual members of the group could greatly increase their joint and individual survival prospect. Group living requires that most individuals behave prosocially. But it also provides a space for those who can exploit the prosocial behavior of others. It becomes imperative for the survival of the group that such exploitative tendencies be discouraged. Neuberg, Smith and Asher argue that stigmatization is just such a strategy. In general, they predict that stigmatization should be directed at those who threaten the effectiveness of group living. For example, they argue that those that violate the norm of reciprocity will tend to be stigmatized. This includes the stigmatization of thieves (i.e. those who violate the norm actively by taking more than is due them) as well as the disabled (i.e. those who simply cannot contribute their "share" to the group). Interestingly, they predict that stigmatization of these two ways of violating the norm in question would take a different form (it is sufficient to simply avoid the disabled while one has to deal with the thieves more aggressively). They discuss other forms of stigmatization of individuals within one's own group (e.g. of traitors and cheaters who violating the norm of trust) as well as those in other groups.
A similarly general question is posed by Stangor and Crandall, though they approach it from a sociological perspective (in fact they do not mention the evolutionary account in their survey of theories of stigma). They argue that stigmas are socially constructed but at their root lies a perception of threat (whether tangible, such as potential for aggression, or symbolic, such as offense to one's moral views). Such perceptions are subsequently distorted and socially coalesced into stigmas.
If stigmatization does indeed have a solid place in societies the question arises how it is that the stigmatizers deal with stigmatization, in particular how is it that they manage not to feel any kind of empathy toward those they devalue. Crandall argues that such people adhere to justification ideologies that either find ways of attributing fault to the stigmatized ("the poor live only in the present") or justify the hierarchical organization of society where some will necessarily be worse off. At the same time, Crandall notes that the process of stigmatization is intrinsically conflict-ridden since there simultaneously exist powerful suppression ideologies (e.g. humanitarianism and egalitarianism).
Crocker and Quinn investigate the extent to which the social self is affected by the stigma. They challenge the dogma that social stigma creates low self-esteem by arguing that the empirical evidence supporting it is at best inconclusive. They emphasize that the self-esteem of stigmatized individuals depends on the collective representations that the stigmatized bring to the situation. This means, among other things, that stigmatization does not require the presence of prejudiced individuals (sometimes the belief that there is a long-standing prejudice suffices).
Cioffi takes as her point of departure the looking-glass view of self, i.e. the idea that we form a view of who we are on the basis of how others' treat us. She is particularly concerned with the ways in which normal interactions are distorted in the case of a "social token" (the actor in the "spotlight" in a given social situation, such as the only woman, the only African-American, the only homophobe, etc., in a class, party, etc.). She argues that the metaphor of "looking glass" ought to be replaced by the metaphor of a "hall of mirrors" to take account of the complexity and variety of perspectives that the actor is faced with.
Smart and Wegner focus on the psychological costs of concealing stigmas. They endorse the "preoccupation model of secrecy" according to which strategies used to assure secrecy (such as though suppression) result in activating cognitive processes that lead to excessive thinking about the secret.
Miller and Major use a "stress-and-coping" framework to understand the experiences of the stigmatized. They discuss two kinds of coping strategies. Problem-focused strategies are geared toward reducing problems associated with the stigma. They include attempts to change oneself (e.g. dieting, therapy) or the perception of oneself (e.g. concealment), others (e.g. eliminating prejudice) or situation (e.g. avoidance). Emotion-focused strategies are designed to control the stressful emotions that arise from being stigmatized (e.g. by comparing oneself selectively to others, or by denying/minimizing the extent of stigmatization). The authors conclude that "there is nothing pathological or neurotic about the approaches taken by stigmatized individuals to cope with stigma-related stress" (265). It is also unlikely, they claim, that there are any universally rational strategies for coping -- they need to be geared toward the particular situation of the particular individual.
Hebl, Tickle and Heatherton try to understand the nature of interactions between nonstigmatized and stigmatized individuals that all too often result in what the authors call "awkward moments". They hypothesize that awkward moments occur due to the anxiety that both the stigmatized and the nonstigmatized bring in to the situation, which itself depends on a variety of factors. They suggest specific strategies to reduce the awkwardness of such moments.
Blascovich, Mendes, Hunter and Lickel ask why stigma increases the likelihood of antisocial interaction. They claim that neither purely cognitive (stigma elicits negative stereotypes which flavor the interaction) nor purely affective (stigma elicits negative emotions which individuals try to avoid) nor mixed explanations suffice. They propose that one must appeal to the fact that stigma carries with it the perception of possible harm (threat).
Jussim, Palumbo, Chatman, Madon and Smith review the literature pertaining (indirectly) to the role of stigmas in creating self-fulfilling prophecies that in turn serve to justify those stigmas. Although self-fulfilling processes are often initiated by the prejudices of those who stigmatize, the authors suggest that sometimes the stigmatized person's belief that another person stigmatizes them may lead to such a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Zebrowitz and Montepare investigate the processes of stigmatization pertain to age uncovering the sometimes subtle ways in which adolescents and the elders are stigmatized. In a companion paper, Hebl and Kleck explore the social consequences of physical disability.
As is evident from the brief survey of the articles, the volume does not advance a unified perspective. In bringing a variety of points of view to bear on the processes of stigmatization it displays the phenomenon in its complexity.
Katarzyna Paprzycka is a full-time mother, teaching part-time at the University of Southern Mississippi.