From “The Shock Doctrine” to “The Stigma Doctrine”: Imogen Tyler

I am currently developing a new research project titled ‘The Stigma Doctrine’, which is the “sister project” to Revolting Subjects.


In 1964, Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity transformed scholarly and wider public understandings of how stigma impacts upon well-being, social relations and community cohesion. Goffman made two central claims: 1) stigma is not an essential quality of a person or thing but rather describes a ‘special kind of relationship between attribute and stereotype’ (Goffman, 1963:4); and 2) individuals manage the shame of stigma by employing strategies of passing, concealment and refusal.

Goffman’s work has been pivotal in the development practical initiatives designed to combat social stigma, for example in programmes designed to reduce the social stigma of conditions such as HIV and Aids, and in the area of mental health and disability policy development and activism.  Indeed, in the fifty years since Stigma was published, social and political movements, such as the disability rights movement, have radically transformed public perceptions and understandings of what might have been considered ‘deviant’ or ‘marked’ bodies and behaviours. However, despite these sometimes successful practical applications of Goffman’s work, it is striking how little our theoretical understandings of stigmatisation have developed in the intervening 50 years (but see the important work of Graham Scambler on Stigma including his 2009 Review article: “health-related stigma” in Sociology of Health and Illness 31 441-455)

Further, the centrality of stigma in producing economic and social inequalities has been obscured ‘because bodies of research pertaining to specific stigmatized statuses have generally developed in separate domains’ (Hatzenbuehler, 2013). In short, stigma is widely accepted to be a major factor in determining life chances, yet research on stigma is fragmented across academic disciplines.


In ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’ (2007), Naomi Klein details the ways in which ‘the policy trinity’ of neoliberalism, ‘the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending’ has been enabled through the invention and/or exploitation of crises, be they natural disasters, terrorist attacks or global economic recession. In my new project, ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ I revise Klein’s analysis, researching the claim made by the sociologist Loïc Wacquant (2010), and extended in Geographer Tom Slater’s work on territorial stigma (follow this link to Tom’s incredible bibliography on this topic), that “neoliberalism is characterised by heightened stigmatization in daily life and public discourse” (Wacquant).

Focusing on policy design and implementation, ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ aims to develop a new theoretical account of the ways in which neoliberal modes of government operate not only by capitalizing upon ‘shocks’ but through the production and mediation of stigma.

‘The Stigma Doctrine’ will involve an extensive review of the literature on stigma from several disciplines, including sociology, political theory, psychology, anthropology, disability studies, health research and the arts, alongside some new empirical research on the role of stigma in policy design and implementation in the UK today.

‘The Stigma Doctrine’ has five aims: 1) to develop a new cogent theoretical account of social, political and economic function of stigma; 2) to examine the relationship between stigma and growing inequalities; 3) to develop new methodological approaches to the study of stigma; 4) to explore the policy implications of ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ 5) to deepen wider public understanding of the centrality of practices of stigmatization in maintaining and reproducing social inequalities.

Poverty, Shame and Stigma

Existing empirical research demonstrates that the social dimensions of poverty are as significant as economic hardship. Economist Amartya Sen, for example, has developed rich and detailed understanding of the disabling effects of poverty shame. ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ will bring this work into dialogue with recent psychosocial research on the politics of affect and emotion. It will also examine existing empirical research on poverty and shame, including the findings of the Oxford University project, ‘Shame, social exclusion and the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes’ (ESRC-DFID 2010-2012). However, what distinguishes ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ from existing research is its explicit focus on stigmatization as a central dimension of neoliberal state-crafting.

This project aims to develop a better understanding the production of stigma in relationship to the prevailing ‘post-welfare consensus’ (Peck 2010). Indeed, one area I want to examine in this project is whether stigmatization is designed into policy in order to ‘nudge’ citizens off state benefits. The ‘behaviourist turn’ in policy formation, and the accompanying intensive social, political and media focus on ‘behaviourally recalcitrant’ social groups, has not been researched from the perspective of stigma. ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ will offer an important critical analysis of ‘behaviour change’ approaches to policy design and the emergence of what has been coined ‘neuroliberal’ forms of governmentality (see Rhys Jones et al 2013, and Lynne Friedli’s work in this area).


22 thoughts on “From “The Shock Doctrine” to “The Stigma Doctrine”: Imogen Tyler

  1. And of course there are connections with moral panics too, cos of the ways they divert attention – please add our blog to your list –

    Thanks Imogen!

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  7. Link & Phelan’s 2001 article may be useful to you. If we theorize stigma in a way consistent with what these authors suggest–that is, stigma must rely on social power and categorization (see, obviously, Jenkins’ work)–then it’s right up your alley. I wonder, though, what differentiates the work on stigma from the work in other areas on stereotyping, sexism and/or racism. Is it just up one level of abstraction?

    Link, BG, and JC Phelan. 2001. “Conceptualizing Stigma.” Annual Review of Sociology 27(2001):363–85. Retrieved March 11, 2013 (

    • thanks for this Phil, I have been reading Link and Phelan and have begun working with their idea of Stigma Power –but they need a better theory of power I think (which I hope to provide). I think stigma is useful not because it is a level of abstraction up, but because it a) cuts across different classifications (class, sexism, racism, disability) and allows us to think about intersections and commonalities — think in an inter-disciplinary way ; b) because it is about lived experiences and c) because it is an inter-relational concept which allows us to describe both how stigma is defended against/resistance but also how/where and why produced so is a conceptual tool for thinking about governmentality and power. I am in the early days of the project though, so might change my mind!

  8. This is excellent – thanks for the heads up, Imogen. Me and some colleagues at Cardiff Uni (and one at Aberdeen) are doing work with young people in a post-industrial Welsh town, and much of your post strikes a cord with our own conversations within the community (and how people negotiate and resist such stigmatisation). Wacquant’s idea of territorial stigmatisation – as well as Goffman’s exploration of stigma – have been central to some of our claims. To repeat Jayne’s question, are there plans to publish soon?

    • Hi Gareth –would be great to read/talk to you about your work. I am so way off publication as a new project, although very much related to revolting subjects and the idea of social abjection, and double meaning of revolt-ing I developed in that book. I begin the project ‘proper’ in september when I have some time off teaching and admin, but have been collecting and reading the stigma literature in preparation for it. I hope will be a Stigma Doctrine book published in 2016/2017 and articles before then. I will be assembling some kind of stigma research network in 2015/2016 with a workshop and would be great if you could come to talk at that about your research.keep in touch.

      • Hi Imogen. Thanks for your prompt reply. I know you’ve been in touch with my colleague (and previous PhD supervisor!) Joanna Latimer here in Cardiff. She’s recently been waxing lyrical about your work on revolting subjects and I’m sure we could put together an event here based on that / the stigma doctrine. Would that be something you’re interested in?

        Also, I have some other references on placed-based stigma if you’d like them? These are taken from my in-review paper “‘It’s Just a Normal Place’: How Young People Imagine, Negotiate, and Resist the Stigmatization of a Post-Industrial Community”. I’d love to be part of your stigma research network too. If you would like a collaborator with this or someone just to help out in another way, please just let me know. And of course I’d be very happy to talk at the workshop!

  9. thanks Gareth, I am planning to hibernate a little in the coming autumn/winter to get down the basic literature review on stigma, but would love to come and visit in Cardiff when I have got through this first stage of work. Thanks very much for offering to assist with stigma network, this will evolve in the autumn as well and will be sure to be in touch. Joanna is a star!
    Can you send your paper or is it online?

    • That’s great news. I’ll drop you another email after winter 2015 to see about your availability. Keep me posted about the network and I’ll be glad to help in whatever way I can. And I’m happy to send you the paper since it’s not online yet. Where’s best for you: email, Twitter?

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  13. Hi Imogen!
    As a blogger about german welfare politics (sanctions in particular) and former activist, I have often thought that resentment (and not neoliberalism) is really the ideology that coordinates the actions of the many actors involved in producing and reproducing what we call #HartzIV, from street-level bureucrats to the Bundestag, from the welfare industry to the press, from big employers to the big unions.
    This resentment exists often independently of the people it gets ultimatly fixed on, and to look at it only in its last stage in the form of stigma which is attached to certain persons is, in my opinion, a gigantic oversight.
    So I am glad to see that it is going to be studied as “the ways in which neoliberal modes of government operate not only by capitalizing upon ‘shocks’ but through the production and mediation of stigma”.

    • hi thanks for this really interesting comment – I haven’t thought about this in terms of resentment – but I think what you are describing here is precisely linked to what I would describe as a political economy of stigma – how stigma is produced and crafted on multiple scales to reproduce the systems of value desired by neoliberal capital — and added to this how stigma is resisted in multiple ways – through the crafting of alternative value systems which challenge, for example, the monetisation of poverty and welfare – warmest for now

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