• Supporting those affected by the misery of stigma and exclusion

Deviance in social stigma

Social stigma takes place when an individual is identified as being deviant, i.e. different to a perceived wider majority. Generally deviant is linked with negative stereotypes which engender prejudiced attitudes and which elicit discriminatory behaviour towards the target, i.e. the person perceived to be deviant. the concept of deviance was developed by American sociologist Erving Goffman and further developed by German sociologist Gerhard Falk who redefined deviant as 'others who deviate from the expectations of a group.'

Stella Baker has further redefined this into two stages, the first being 'social vulnerability' where someone is different to a larger group and open to being stigmatized, where the deviance is seen as a target. This is because not everybody in a wider group stigmatizes those perceived to be different because culture is relative as much to location and geography as it is to people. Indeed while there is a certain amount of conformity among rural communities in terms of social and cultural attitudes, in more urban enviornments there is a greater diversity which is down to the larger concentrations of people.

As a result of Falk's work, deviance is categorized into two types:

Societal deviance

This refers to a condition which is widely perceived, in general and in advance, as being deviant and is more likely to carry stigma and involve the stigmatization of individuals who fit the stereotypes involving that condition. Homosexuality is an example of societal deviance because there is a widespread consensus that homosexuality is different and to some a violation of norms and societal expectations.

Situational deviance

This generally refers to an act or characteristic that is labelled as deviant in a specific context or situation but which may not be labelled as such by society. A good example is a thief or other street criminal. It is the crime which leads to the stigma and the stigmatization of the person affected.

However Stella Baker has observed that there is some variance in societal deviance which is dependent on local community culture. Using the above example of homosexuality there would be a greater risk of this being perceived as being deviant in a rural community or small town where there are less people, people pay more attention to one another than it would in a larger city or conurbation where people are more likely to encounter people who are generally perceived to be socially deviant. Social vulnerability is determined by the existing social and cultural beliefs of the community in which someone finds themselves.

Deviance negation

In her work Stella Baker has also identified the phenomenon of deviance negation, where the deviance of someone who would be considered deviant by a wider majority is negated if they are associated with someone who cannot be labelled as deviant. This means that deviance and social stigma tends to be more likely when it is isolation or where the deviant person is alone or with other deviant people.