Language of the lost: An explication of stigma communication

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Although stigmas appear throughout history, even in present-day virtual communities, an explanation of stigma communication has yet to be offered; this essay attempts to do just that. This essay argues that stigma communication includes specific content: marks, labels, responsibility, and peril, in order to induce affective and cognitive responses to create stigma attitudes, to generate protective action tendencies, and to encourage the sharing of these messages with others. Stigma messages bear the following attributes: they provide cues (a) to distinguish people, (b) to categorize distinguished people as a separate social entity, (c) to imply a responsibility for receiving placement within this distinguished group and their associated peril, and (d) to link this distinguished group to physical and social peril. Different qualities of stigma messages, moreover, evoke different emotions (disgust, fear, and anger) that motivate people to access relevant social attitudes, form or bolster stigma attitudes, and to remove the stigmatized threat. Stigma attitudes encourage the sharing of stigma messages with others in a network, which may, subsequently, bond in-group members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)462-485
Number of pages24
JournalCommunication Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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