Stigma as a Devalued Master Status: Living with a Spoiled Identity for a Day
The sociologist Harold Garfinkel notes that there is a ritualized, taken-for-granted quality to much of our
everyday social life. The rules that govern much of our interaction and conduct are informal and almost
invisible. Each of us has internalized an understanding of what is expected of us as well as others. We
become accustomed to the rule-bound, structured give-and-take of social interaction. The nature and
force of this mundane normative order, as well as the exercise of social control, however, can become
apparent when norms, in this case appearance norms, are perceived to be breached or violated.
In this assignment, you can observe and experience a kind of deviance firsthand and the responses it
provokes, both within yourself and in others with whom you encounter and interact. You are going to
experiment with breaching norms by displaying something that can disrupt our mundane encounters.
You are also going to experience a kind of stigma and feel the effects of labeling.
As Erving Goffman defines it, stigma is a mark of disgrace, an attribute that is deeply discrediting,
designating a person as blemished, bad, and immoral. For Goffman, stigma is more than a trait of
particular individuals, but, rather it was part of the relationship between so-called normals and those
stigmatized. Knowing what is stigmatized tells us also what is valued, acceptable, desirable or how
people conform to social expectations. Stigma is an example of social control and measure of what
others around us expect or actually demand.
Place the band-aids distributed in class on some part of your face that is readily visible to others.
Visibility, especially social visibility, is important since youre eliciting others responses. These band-aids
are distinctive in their bright colors so theyre sure to catch people’s attention. Spend a day or two away
from campus wearing the band-aid, especially where you are out and about and when you can expect to
encounter family, friends or acquaintances, and strangers in public. Take note of how others respond to
your visual display of deviance. A mark on the face, especially one so clearly visible will draw looks and
questions from others. What account do you provide when questioned? Do you use the same
explanation or vary your answers? Take this experiment seriously. Say nothing about the band-aid
unless asked. Do not resort to the explanation: Im doing an experiment for school.
In your write-up, consider how others responded to you and how you dealt with the others reactions.
How did it feel being visibly marked by others and labeled? Were others labeling you as rebellious,
incompetent, weird, injured, and so forth? If you found displaying the band-aid uncomfortable, what
must it be like for others who are physically or visually different?