Labeling and Stigma

  • Bruce G. LinkEmail author
  • Jo C. Phelan
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


The chapter addresses the stigma associated with mental illnesses. It begins by summarizing the development of thinking about labeling and stigma over the past half century within the field of the sociology of mental health. This background leads to our consideration of recent advances in the conceptualization of stigma as we ask: What is stigma? How do different stigmatizing circumstances (mental illness, obesity, facial disfigurement) resemble and differ from one another? We also ask: Why do people stigmatize? In keeping with the Handbook’s emphasis on social class and socioeconomic status (SES), we introduce the concept of “stigma power” and apply this new concept to the questions of “What do people gain by stigmatizing others?” and “How is stigma power exercised?” Finally, we consider the steps people take to avoid, mitigate, or overcome stigma, drawing in particular on Thoits’ (Soc Psychol Q 74:6–28, 2011) theoretical statements about this issue. The conceptual growth that has taken place over time opens enormous possibilities for advancing the sociological understanding of mental illness stigma and by doing so helps to illuminate ways in which the effects of stigma might be mitigated.


Stigma Labeling Discrimination Stereotypes Stigma Resistance Stigma Power 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Epidemiology and Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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