STIGMA: How We Treat Outsiders

Gerhard Falk, Author
Gerhard Falk, Author . Prometheus $26 (376p) ISBN 978-1-57392-880-9
Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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Stigmas—which derive from the Greek "stig," meaning "to prick" (referring to the tattoos used to mark slaves)—now come in a frighteningly wide variety, emerging everywhere from the Columbine High School shootings to social politics surrounding immigration. In this general overview, Falk (Sex, Gender and Social Change), professor of sociology at SUNY Buffalo, looks at how large segments of the population—Jews, women, homosexuals, the mentally challenged, single people, prostitutes, Native Americans, African-Americans, the overweight and even the successful—are stigmatized. Beginning with a broad theory of the uses and abuses of stigmatizing, including the differences between societal and situational deviance, Falk discusses the intricacies of how specific groups are branded and resist the cultural stigmas placed upon them. At his best, Falk is as comfortable quoting data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics as he is questioning the religious underpinnings of Alcoholics Anonymous or evaluating studies of prison-release programs. Too often, however, this wide-ranging book feels overly ambitious and incomplete. Falk fails to map out the deeper subtleties of his topic, such as when he touches on a postmodern critique of race, but then lapses into more traditional commentary. He also confuses the reader as he moves from the Salem witch trials to the McMartin preschool case or a discussion of homophobia. But despite these flaws, there is a wealth of solid material here—his précis of anti-Indian themes in U.S. literature is concise and insightful—which makes the book particularly appropriate for readers with sweeping interests, and for newcomers to sociology. (June)

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