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The Stigma Archive

ENGL 790.401


This course explores the history and theory of social stigma across a range of disciplines. Stigma indicates both a literal marking of the flesh and the “uptake” of the body into an abstract sign of inferiority. Both wound and symbol, the term offers a useful way to describe the paradoxical abstraction and hyper-visibility of social others. During the semester, we will consider the importance of stigma in the origin of modern categories of identity; we will also attempt to mediate between abstract, top-down accounts of stigma and first-person accounts of the corporeal and psychic effects of social exclusion.

The course is divided into two parts. In the first part, we will trace the origin of stigma in the ancient world as well as its afterlife in discourses ranging from statistics to criminology to the human sciences. In the second part, we will focus on a single text—Erving Goffman’s 1963 sociological classic /Stigma: On the Management of Spoiled Identity/. We will read Goffman’s book alongside the texts that he draws on: a range of mid-century memoirs, novels, case studies, and autobiographies by and about social others (everything from circus performers to drug addicts to homosexuals to ex-cons). We will draw on recent work in queer, critical race, and disability studies and will frame our conversation in terms of recent debates about the potentials and dangers of comparative studies of difference and inequality.

Readings by: Goffman, Michel Foucault, Helene Cixous, Georges Canguilhem, Frantz Fanon, W. E. B. Du Bois, Rosemary Garland Thomson, Kenji Yoshino, Martha Nussbaum, Lennard Davis, Roderick Ferguson, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Sander Gilman, Anne Anlin Cheng, Jean-Paul Sartre, James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Nathanael West, Susan Seizer, and others.

 Undergraduates are not permitted to take 700-level courses.

fulfills requirements