It can be argued that all research on stigma and stigmatisation is a footnote to the sociologist Erving Goffman. In a few short, elegantly written books (e.g. Goffman, 1968), he provided a wealth of ideas and insights, giving much inspiration to work on this topic. Goffman defined a 'stigma' as a mark or sign that not only sets a person apart from others but also leads to their devaluation. He distinguished between three types of stigma: 'tribal identity' (such as race, gender or religion); 'character blemishes' (such as mental illness or addiction); and what he called 'abominations of the body'. Although today we would not wish to use such terms as 'defects', 'abnormalities' or 'flaws' to describe the bodies of people with physical differences, Goffman quite sensitively discussed the issues faced by people whose appearance or function has been compromised in some way.
One of Goffman's central ideas was that the mark or sign comes to take on 'master' status, becoming the most important characteristic of the affected individual. This is illustrated by the following description, given by a person with psoriasis. He is recalling a time when his psoriasis took on more importance in the eyes of others than his more relevant sporting skills and efforts:
'As a schoolboy sportsman I was once called names when going for a shower after an important game. I had made an important contribution in winning but was made to feel an outcast because I was suffering with psoriasis on my shins at the time'.
Since Goffman's seminal work, there have been several collections of essays (e.g. Jones et al., 1984; Heatherton et al., 2000) that cover research on stigma from a general psychological perspective. The aim of this chapter is to review the research on stigma and stigmatisation as it relates to dermatological conditions. The work has been conducted with people with a variety of skin conditions, including vitiligo, psoriasis, port wine stains and eczema. The chapter aims to answer six questions:
1 What types of stigmatisation do people encounter?.
2 What is the nature of these experiences?
3 Why does stigmatisation occur?
4 What are the effects of stigmatisation?
5 Why does stigmatisation matter?
6 How might stigmatisation be reduced?
A seventh section considers future research possibilities.
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Do You Suffer From the Itching and Scaling of Psoriasis? Or the Chronic Agony of Psoriatic Arthritis? If so you are not ALONE! A whopping three percent of the world’s populations suffer from either condition! An incredible 56 million working hours are lost every year by psoriasis sufferers according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.