Stigma Machine GIF – a Kafkaesque collaboration with the graphic artist Tom Morris

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One of the most enjoyable parts of the research project on stigma and power which I am currently working on, has been collaborating with two artists, Charlotte Bailey (with whom I have co-produced a graphic essay to be posted here very soon) and Tom Morris, with whom I have produced this “Stigma Machine” GIF (Tom did all the hard work translating my ideas).

I am currently writing up the opening chapters of my book Stigma Machine, and in due course will add some notes here to explain the meaning of this GIF and the process of its creation with Tom – but as some of you guessed (when I shared this GIF on twitter) it is inspired (in part) by Franz Kafka’s short story ‘In the Penal Colony’ (1919).

Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’ recounts the ethnographic adventure of a European explorer who, on visiting a French penal colony in the tropics, is given a demonstration of an elaborate writing machine which tortures people to death by repetitively tattooing ‘whatever commandment the prisoner has disobeyed’ upon their body. This machine is made up of three parts, the Bed, on which the condemned man is chained face down, hanging above this is the Designer which contains cogs and mechanisms which drive the Harrow, a glass armature studded with needles. The Harrow shuttles between the Bed and the Designer on a steel ribbon and tattoos the judgement onto the body. As the officer in charge of the machine explains to the explorer, the Harrow begins by tattooing the back of the condemned person, ‘when it finishes the first draft of the inscription’ the machine’ turns the body over, to give the Harrow fresh space for writing’.  As the explorer discovers, within the judicial “state of exception” of the Penal colony, prisoners are not informed of what crime they have committed.  There is no hearing, no judge, no opportunity to stage a defence: ‘Guilt is never to be doubted’.  Rather, the prisoner becomes slowly ‘enlightened’ to the nature of their crime by deciphering the text as it is etched ever deeper into their flesh. ‘You have seen how difficult it is to decipher the script with one’s eyes; but our man deciphers it with his wounds’.

In my forthcoming book Stigma Machines, Kafka’s graphic torture machine is employed as a guide for tracing alternative genealogies of the concept of stigma — which extend –as this GIF suggests to the current authoritarian turn in global politics — and the role of media corporations in this process…

‘In the Penal Colony’ has inspired much artistic reflection and production, from the track ‘Colony’ penned by Ian Curtis on post-punk band Joy Division’s album Closer (1980), to an Opera written by acclaimed US composer Philip Glass (2000), to `Iranian film-maker Narges Kalhor’s short film Darkhish (or The Rake) (2009) —in which Kafka’s machine is reimagined as representing the barbarism of contemporary Iranian prison regimes.

Like many of Kafka’s novels and short stories, ‘In the Penal Colony’ has also been the subject of intense theoretical reflection (see for example, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida,  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Edward Said, Gorgio Agamben and Judith Butler, George Steiner and Bertold Brecht). Deployed as an ‘analogy for the contemporary field of power’ (Butler, 1999), ‘In the Penal Colony’ has been used in particular to theorise historical and contemporary judicial “states of exception”, from Nazi Concentration Camps, to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the US penal colony at Guantanamo Bay (see Danchev, 2006).

Walter Benjamin encourages practicing Kafka as an experimental machine.

However, as Margaret Kohn (2003) has argued, many artistic and theoretical engagements with ‘In the Penal Colony’ frequently display colonial amnesia, despite the fact that this is a story ‘marked and saturated’ with ‘colonial motifs’, from the title of the story, to the political theatre of the scene– and its location (a desert, the searing sun) — to racist depictions of the condemned man — (animal-like demeanour, allusions to cannibalism) and his inability to ‘understand a word’ of what was being said as `he doesn’t speak French’ (Kohn, 2003).

In a careful historical account of the probable contemporary sources which inspired  Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’, Paul Peters draws our attention to a cartoon in the October 1907 edition of the then popular German satirical magazine Simplicissimus (see below), which depicts a British officer feeding an African man into a giant vice –which squeezes gold out of him while a missionary “enlightens him” by reading from a Bible. As Peter’s notes, this is an image:

which profoundly resonates with Kafka’s torture machine, as a metaphor for the ‘vast procedure of extermination’, in which native populations where ‘exposed to unbounded and horrific “punishments’, by the apparatuses of colonial power.

Certainly, the political anatomy of early Twentieth Century European colonialism was imagined by both Kafka and by the Simplicissimus cartoonist, as ‘a machine like no other’ (Kafka), a violent assemblage, etched into the bodies of subjugated peoples and nations and from which ‘streams of blood and streams of money’ flowed..

Perhaps the grotesquely violent machine of colonialism was, from Kafka’s perspective in 1914 already ‘obviously disintegrating’ (Kafka) as it became increasingly evident that ‘its peaceful action was an illusion’  (Kafka) … at the end of ‘In the Penal Colony’, it is the officer, not the prisoner, who is killed by the stigma machine.. and the machine breaks down in the process.

More on stigma machines to come ………….


A Graphic Essay Collaboration with Charlotte Bailey: From Stigma Power to Black Power

file-8 (2)Please note copyright ©Charlotte Bailey images & @ImogenTyler words. Please do not reproduce any images from this page without proper citation: Charlotte Bailey & Imogen Tyler, 2018 “From Stigma Power to Black Power” Graphic Essay.

One of the outcomes of my research project on stigma is a collaboration with the graphic artist Charlotte Bailey . Together we have been transforming my article on Goffman – a paper which puts Goffman’s stigma concept into critical dialogue with Black Sociological and Political thought (mainly but not only from the US) .

Charlotte has been interpreting my essay visually through her ink drawings- and I have been working on the words, and “the story” the essay tells. The final version of our graphic essay will be available to download for free (but please make sure to credit the artist and writer when distributing!). It will also be available to buy in a limited edition paper copy (when we have worked out the best way to publish it).

One of things which has guided our collaboration is a concern with making rich historical lines of Black critical thought about stigma visible. The original essay attempts to do this through its citational politics –  a very long list of references is intended both as a resource for others, and to make a statement about how Black thinking continues to be ignored and marginalised. Indeed, one of the main arguments I make is that despite the sophisticated understanding of racial stigma developed over a hundred years of black sociological thought, the conceptualisation of stigma in sociology has largely been ‘structured by the absence of an address’ to this tradition (Bhambra, 2014, p. 12).* This is why in seeking to historically resituate Goffman’s original account, I drew on such a long and wide range of interlocutors working in a Black critical, political and sociological tradition, including: Mario Biondi, James Boggs, Stokley Carmichael, Patricia Hill Collins, Angela Davis, Kimberley Dotson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Roderick Ferguson, Frantz Fanon, the Greensboro Four, Paul Gilroy, Lewis Gordon, Charles Hamilton, Harry Haywood, Robin Kelley, Joyce Lamont, Manning Marable, Zine Magubane, Anne Moody, Cedric Robinson, Hortense Spillers, Cornell West, Patricia Williams and Gary Younge. One of the many things which has been wonderful things about working with Charlotte is how she has animated these Black thinkers through her ink drawings. 

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The account of racism as stigma which emerges through this Black genealogy of stigma-thinking challenges the individualism of psychological approaches to social problems, exposes the limits of “white normative perspectives”, and troubles “race neutral” forms of interactional analysis. What this graphic essay also seeks to highlight are existing rich historical, political and economic conceptualisations of stigma as technologies of dehumanisation, stigma as forms of power which have been collectively resisted from below.


For example, of central importance to Black freedom struggles was (and continues to be) Carmichael and Hamilton’s anti-stigma concept of ‘Black Power’ which reconfigured racial stigma into ‘a revolutionary emotion’:


We hope this graphic essay will help bring racism and anti-racist scholarship and (activism) to the front and centre of sociological understandings of stigma.

*(I am glad to report that more recent scholarship suggests a new sociological interest in the relationship between racism, stigma and power: see Loury, 2003; Howarth, 2006; Matory, 2015; Lamont et. al., 2016).


Please note copyright ©Charlotte Bailey images & @ImogenTyler words. Please do not reproduce any images from this page without proper citation: Charlotte Bailey & Imogen Tyler, 2018 “From Stigma Power to Black Power” Graphic Essay.

Deportation Nation

deport first

At the end of this post is an abstract for an article I am currently finishing called ‘Deportation Nation’. I first developed this paper as a talk at BritCult: The German Association for the Study of British Culture, Dortmund, 2017. This paper develops my longstanding research on deportation, immigration detention and the scapegoating of migrants in public culture, but focuses on Theresa’s May tenure as Home Secretary (and subsequently Prime-Minister), and considers how the institution of ‘Hostile Environment’ policies characterise “Mayism”. I have been documenting May’s tenure as Home Secretary since 2010, and this paper and article presented an first opportunity to draw on some of the materials I have been collating — and particularly to begin to map out the ways in which newspaper journalists and television news companies collaborated with the Home Office in propaganda campaigns ostensibly designed to encourage ‘voluntary departures’ of non-citizens from Britain. As Stuart Hall puts it, “What is significant for the present moment is how this … demonstrates the crafting of collective consent to increased state repression, which appears to be spontaneous, through various cultural and ideological channels’.

In The Deportation Machine (2005), Liz Fekete examines earlier collaborations between the British Government and news organisations in the production of border enforcement propaganda. As Feteke details, it was under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government (1997-2007) that the British state began to deport unwanted migrants on any significant scale: in 1999 about 9,000 deportations took place, by 2010 this had risen to 70,000. In the same period, the Government first set itself numerical targets for the removal of “failed asylum seekers” and “immigration offenders” (Weber & Bowling 2008: 361). In 2001, the Home Office began to charter commercial planes to undertake mass deportations of failed asylum seekers, a practice which over the course of the following decade was extended to other categories of unwanted migrants, and is now commonplace (Miller 2018). The use of charter flights enabled the Home Office to remove “from the public gaze the spectacle of bound and struggling men and women” on commercial flights (Weber & Bowling 2008: 361). This was a strategic decision for, as Antje Ellermann has argued, when confronted with “the human face of deportation” the public “often become far more sensitive to the claims of those the state is attempting to expel” (2006: 296). However, the Home Office also recognised that these ‘shadow flights’ might act as a deterrent to future refugees. In 2004, they contracted an Associated Press Television News team to “video the forced deportation of approximately two dozen Afghans from Gatwick airport so that the film could subsequently be broadcast in Afghanistan as part of a programme warning” those considering coming to Britain that they could face a similar fate (Fekete 2005: 20).

In Go Home? The Politics of Immigration Controversies (2017) Hannah Jones, Yasmin Gunarathnam, Gargi Bhattacharyya, William Davies, Sucwant Dahaliwl, Kirsteen Forket, Emma Jackson and Roiyah Saltus further mapped the genealogy of this deportation propaganda machine. As they detail, in 2006 Tony Blair appointed a new ‘hard-line’ Home Secretary, John Reid (2006-2007), in response to a series of scandals around perceived failures to deport foreign criminals and control levels of ‘illegal migration’. Reid immediately launched a new communications strategy designed to demonstrate “a visibly tough approach to controlling borders and movement” (Jones et al. 2017: 13). This included “getting more images of immigration raids into the media” by “inviting journalists along to witness raids” in order to garner “media attention to the physical ‘toughness’ of the border” (ibid.). Whilst this deportation publicity ostensibly targeted “immigration offenders”, it now also had “an audience of the law-abiding and taxpaying public in mind” (ibid.). This shift in audience was made explicit in 2008, when the Home Office funded an independent television production company to develop a reality television programme called UK Border Force (Steadfast/Sky, 2008-2009). This programme was advertised as “a revealing new documentary series which takes you behind the scenes at Heathrow Terminal 3, Calais, Dover and out and about with diligent enforcement teams – all cracking down on illegal immigrants” (Burnett 2009). UK Border Force established a set of aesthetic and dramatic conventions for border enforcement which remained in evidence in ITN’s production of ‘immigration raid action sequences’ in Slough in 2014 – (which I explore in my article). Indeed, by the time of David Cameron’s televised appearance alongside an immigration ‘snatch squad’, the British public were primed in a televisual aesthetic of enforcement in which border officials appear as patriotic citizen-soldiers on the front-line of ‘the immigration invasion’. In 2010,  when Theresa May was appointed Home Secretary, the now established political use of deportation “to send a signal – to a nation-state’s citizens as well as its ‘outsiders'” significantly intensified (De Genova & Peutz 2010: 28).

This paper was also an opportunity to engage with Nicholas De Genova’s important theoretical work on ‘deportability”, and to consider the ways in which regimes of deportability — and the tentacle-like spread of internal borders within the state this entails — are increasingly entangled with forms of disposability. Policies which make increasing numbers of people ‘deportable’ through, for example, increasing governmental checks on legibility to work, study or live in Britain; and policies which make other unwanted people ‘disposable’, for example state-led practices of gentrification which expel social housing tenants from affluent cities, are underpinned by the same governmental logic. By emphasising the dual axis of deportability and disposability this paper begins to address the intertwined classed and racist character of authoritarian neoliberal state forms. I don’t develop this dual axis of deportability and disposability much further in this paper (but will do in my forthcoming book Stigma Machines).

It is the contention of my current research that we need to develop conceptual tools that enable intersectional analysis of the underlying logic of late neoliberal forms of state power. In particular, this requires an understanding of class and racism as structures of power which function in concert. For example, as Robin Kelley argues, in his account of the historical development of ‘racial capitalism’, it is precisely “the capacity of capital in the state to capture the white working class and tie its identity to race– that is to whiteness and masculinity” which enables neoliberal capitalism to reproduce itself—even at the moment of its own generated crisis. The media and political spectacle of deportation I examine in this paper is designed precisely to engender the forms of ‘capture’ and ‘division’ which Kelley describes.


dawn raid

‘Deportation Nation’ begins with the highly-publicised appearance of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his (then) Home Secretary Theresa May, at the scene of an immigration raid in Slough in 2014. Since the 1990s, deportation has been “routinely capitalized on in governmental rhetoric” as a means of demonstrating effective control over borders and immigration (Tyler 2013: 71). As Nicholas De Genova and Nathalie Peutz argue, “deportation is not only a technique by which governments exert their sovereign power over bodies, space, and ‘the nation’; it has become a mechanism by which governments measure and signal their own effectiveness” (2010: 5). However, while the symbolism of deportation is increasingly invoked as a threat in political rhetoric, the actual practices of deportation, including dawn raids on homes and properties, arrests, detentions and the physical removal of people from British territory, are distressing and sometimes violent procedures. Indeed, these are kinds of activities which senior politicians would ordinarily seek to visually distance themselves from. Given this, the high-profile, if carefully curated, appearance of the British Prime Minister and his Home Secretary at an immigration raid is unusual. Indeed, stepping back from the scene at Slough, there is something extraordinary about the media spectacle of Britain’s most senior politicians at the scene of a deportation. Using events in Slough as a point of entry, this article examines a British Government initiative designed to create what May described in a speech to Parliament in 2012 as “a really hostile environment for illegal migrants in Britain”. It considers the subsequent implementation of this hostile environment and the intensification of deportation as a technology of government which it involved. It also examines how this politics of deportability came to characterise the 2015 Brexit campaign and the racist violence which followed in its wake. It argues that the “production of deportability” has been a defining feature of Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary (2010-2016) and Prime-Minister (2016-current) (De Genova & Peutz 2010: 17). It concludes by considering migrant deportability, and associated forms of citizen disposability, as central components of late neoliberal forms of state power. It is the argument of this article that thinking with and through deportation (and crucially resistance to this) can further our understanding of the relationship between the increasing precarity of migrant lives and the current intensification of ‘legalised expulsions’ “at home” (Walters, 2002).

The hieroglyphics of the border: racial stigma in neoliberal Europe


The abstract and introduction below, is taken from a recent article ‘The hieroglyphics of the border: racial stigma in neoliberal Europe” from my ongoing stigma research project. It was included in a special issue of the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies on ‘Race and Crisis” (Edited by Suman Gupta & Satnam Virdee). You can access the full article and special issue online here, if you don’t have access please email me for a PDF).

Developing out of the larger research project on the political economy of stigma, this article fosters the conceptual framework of ‘racial stigma’ to capture some of the myriad practices that characterize racist responses to refugee arrivals in Europe. It is concerned with thinking how territorial borders are (re)made through racism. That is, how the bodies of refugees and migrants are racialised, and how these racialised bodies are used to mark out, to stake out, the borders of the nation.

Historical figures of race and latent forms of ‘race thinking’ haunt Europe. Indeed, racism is always already historical, drawing its ‘narrative energies’ from existing grids of associations, from “semantic and iconic folds” that are deeply etched in the collective memories of people and places (Spillers 2003 210). To capture some of these historical resonances and repetitions, this article employs genealogical methods, an approach that is concerned not with comparison but rather with ‘tracing lines of descent’ (Walters 2012, 116) in order to better understand the technologies of dispossession at the border. Drawing on Stuart Hall’s claim that race is a badge and Hortense Spillers’ account of racism as a “hieroglyphics of the flesh”, this penal genealogy provides a lens through which to understand racism as a set of penal practices of classification (Hall 1997, Spillers 2003).

The central argument of this article is that racism is a primary technology of statecraft in contemporary Europe. Whether performed with razor wire or crafted through words, borders are “racial assemblages” through which humanity is classified and disciplined into “humans, non-quite-humans, and nonhumans” (Weheliye 2014, 8). Racism is not only an accessory of border control; rather, in a more fundamental and material sense, racism makes borders.


I am profoundly convinced that we are facing an organized invasion and not a spontaneous movement of refugees (Milos Zeman, President of Czech Republic, December 2015).

During 2015 an unprecedented 1.3 million people applied for asylum in the twenty-eight member states of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland. This was ‘nearly double the previous high-water mark of approximately 700,000 [asylum] applications in 1992, after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union’ (Connor, 2016).  Those seeking protection in Europe were largely seeking refugee from wars, conflicts and political oppression in Syria (over 50 per cent), Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.  Some arrived via Balkan land routes, but these borders were soon blocked and the vast majority made treacherous Mediterranean Sea-crossings. An estimated 3771 people drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 alone, evidence of the life and death stakes faced by those undertaking this journey. In the summer of 2015, newspapers and news websites across the world were filled with photographs of drowned children and people desperately paddling towards shore on overloaded dinghies. In response to the growing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, the German Office for Migration and Refugees announced on the social media site Twitter on August 25th 2015: ‘We are at present largely no longer enforcing #Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens.’ What this meant for Syrian refugees on the ground was that if they could navigate a route to Germany, they would be guaranteed at least temporary leave to remain. The announcement triggered what one journalist described as ‘a million-man march through Europe’, as hundreds of thousands of people caught in dire conditions at camps and transit zones across Europe’s Southern borders made their way north by foot, car, bus and train (Foster, 2016). It was amidst this intensifying human and political drama that shortly after midnight on September 1st 2015, two trains drew to a halt in Břeclav, a town in the Czech Republic, close to the border with Austria and Slovakia.

Thinking with this scene, the article develops the conceptual framework of “racial stigma” to capture some of the multiple practices that characterize border regimes in contemporary Europe. The second part of the article considers the ways in which responses to the inking of refugees at Břeclav gave rise to epidemics of racial stigma in a range of local and international contexts. The aim of this section is to illustrate how racial stigma is crafted and communicated within different media and across multiple sites. The article then examines a more concrete scene of humiliation, the abject conditions endured by refugees in Czech immigration detention centres. The aim here is to consider how racial stigmatization of refugees enables and legitimates further practices of dehumanization and degradation. The article concludes with some reflections on racism as a form of haunting (Gordon 1997). It considers how Europe’s current racist crisis reanimates both the historical spectres of race and the spectral geographies of racism. The afterword invites the reader to confront these ghosts by returning once more to Břeclav train station.


Břeclav Railway Station, Břeclav, South Moravia, Czech Republic, September 1st 2015

czech police

At Midnight on the September 1st 2015, a squad of Czech Alien Police boarded two trains in Břeclav and forcibly removed two hundred and fourteen people, one hundred and fifteen men, thirty-eight women and sixty-one children. The first train had arrived from Vienna shortly before midnight, the second shortly after midnight from Budapest, and both were bound for Germany. Czech government officials described the passengers it removed from these two trains as ‘214 illegal migrants’. The vast majority were refugees from Syria, one hundred and ninety-six of them Syrian nationals. Many of them had survived treacherous sea-crossings from Turkey to Greek islands and were just hours away from their German destination when the trains came to a halt and were boarded by police, who moved through carriages checking people’s documents. All of those without an EU passport or a travel visa that allowed them to be on Czech territory were removed. The state-owned Czech Railways revealed they were working closely with the Czech Alien Police to ‘share information on the movements of migrants’ and to ensure the ‘hygiene’ and safety of trains and railway stations; this was why ‘police were waiting for the trains […] They were prepared for the migrants. Buses for their transport parked outside the station and dozens of policemen were patrolling there’ (Czech News Agency, 2015). After escorting people from the trains, some in handcuffs, the police assembled people on the platforms and proceeded to use indelible pens to ink numbers on their arms and wrists. Kateřina Rendlová, a spokeswoman for the Czech Alien Police stated that the inking of refugees was a means of keeping a record of family members, adding, “We also write the code of the train they have arrived on so that we know which country we should return them to within the readmission system” adding “we used to put the numbers on a piece of paper but they kept throwing them away” (Flemr 2015). The refugees were then packed onto buses destined for temporary camps in local school gymnasiums in south Moravia, where officials said they would be processed, before being transferred to remote rural detention centres.


Rethinking the Sociology of Stigma: Stigma is not a self-evident phenomenon but like all concepts has a history.

This abstract below is taken from the introduction (written by myself and Tom Slater) to a special issue Monograph of the Sociological Review on The Sociology of Stigma. The full introduction, and full issue is online here and can be purchased in hardcopy here for £10. [If you would like a PDF of this introduction but cannot access please contact me].

the sociology of stigma cover

Stigma is not a self-evident phenomenon but like all concepts has a history. The conceptual understanding of stigma which underpins most sociological research has its roots in the ground-breaking account penned by Erving Goffman in his best-selling book Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1963). In the 50 years since its publication, Goffman’s account of stigma has proved a productive concept, in terms of furthering research on social stigma and its effects, on widening public understandings of stigma, and in the development of anti-stigma campaigns. However, this introductory article argues that the conceptual understanding of stigma inherited from Goffman, along with the use of micro-sociological and/or psychological research methods in stigma research, often side-lines questions about where stigma is produced, by whom and for what purposes. As Simon Parker and Robert Aggleton argue, what is frequently missing is social and political questions, such as ‘how stigma is used by individuals, communities and the state to produce and reproduce social inequality’. This article expands on Parker and Aggleton’s critique of the limitations of existing conceptual understandings of stigma, through an examination of the anti-stigma campaign Heads Together. This high-profile campaign launched in 2016 seeks to ‘end the stigma around mental health’ and is fronted by members of the British Royal Family. By thinking critically with and about this campaign, this article seeks to both delineate the limitations of existing conceptual understandings of stigma and to begin to develop a supplementary account of how stigma functions as a form of power. We argue that in order to grasp the role and function of stigma in society, scholarship must develop a richer and fuller understanding of stigma as a cultural and political economy. The final part of this introduction details the articles to follow, and the contribution they collectively make to the project of rethinking the sociology of stigma. This collection has been specifically motivated by: (1) how reconceptualising stigma might assist in developing better understandings of pressing contemporary problems of social decomposition, inequality and injustice; (2) a concern to decolonise the discipline of sociology by interrogating its major theorists and concepts; and (3) a desire to put class struggle and racism at the centre of understandings of stigma as a classificatory form of power.

Resituating Erving Goffman: From Stigma Power to Black Power

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Drawing by Charlotte Bailey (from a forthcoming Graphic Essay based on this article). Please do not reproduce this images without proper citation: Charlotte Bailey & Imogen Tyler, 2018 “From Stigma Power to Black Power” Graphic Essay.

In “Resituating Erving Goffman: From Stigma Power to Black Power”, a recent article published from my ongoing Stigma research project (link to full article here but please contact me for a PDF if you can’t access it), I offer a critical re-reading of the understanding of stigma forged by the North American sociologist Erving Goffman in his influential Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1963). One of the most widely read and cited sociologists in history, Goffman was already famous when Stigmawas published in 1963. His previous books were best-sellers and Stigma alone has sold an astonishing 800,000 copies in the 50 years since its publication. Given its considerable influence, it is surprising how little sustained engagement there has been with the historicity of Goffman’s account. This article resituates Goffman’s conceptualisation of stigma within the historical context of Jim Crow and the Black freedom struggles that were shaking ‘the social interaction order’ to its foundations at the very moment he crafted his account. It is the contention of this article that these explosive political movements against the ‘humiliations of racial discrimination’ invite revision of Goffman’s decidedly apolitical account of stigma. This historical revision of Goffman’s stigma concept builds on an existing body of critical work on the relationship between race, segregation and the epistemology of sociology within the USA. Throughout, it reads Goffman’s Stigma through the lens of ‘Black Sociology’, a field of knowledge that here designates not only formal sociological scholarship, but political manifestos, journalism, creative writing, oral histories and memoirs. It is the argument of this article that placing Goffman’s concept of stigma into critical dialogue with Black epistemologies of stigma allows for a timely reconceptualisation of stigma as governmental technologies of dehumanisation that have long been collectively resisted from below.


from stigma power to black power

From Revolting Subjects to Stigma Machines

Dutch elections and colonial continuity: The history of race and racism in Dutch nation-building

Postcolonialism and its Discontents


Today are the Dutch general election to determine which parties will control Dutch parliament. It is essentially a race between Geert Wilders and the PVV and Mark Rutte and the VVD – one a far-right party and the other a center-right one. This election, and the campaigning around it, should by now prove two things: the first that the political spectrum in the Netherlands has moved to the right to such an extent that the term leftist politics is all but meaningless; and the second is that the emergence of Islam and race s central topics of debate is not something “new” and is not even an emergence in any technical sense; if anything it represents a continuity with older colonial modes of self-identification.

In an Al Jazeera piece on the elections, this quote caught my eye:

“We will get the verdict this evening after an election campaign that has…

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Democratic Fascism

reblogged from Sociological Review Blog

posted on Monday 21st November, 2016

Imogen Tyler

“If we are to keep the enormity of the forces aligned against us from establishing a false hierarchy of oppression, we must school ourselves to recognize that any attack against Blacks, any attack against women, is an attack against all of us who recognize that our interests are not being served by the systems we support.”

Audre Lorde, 1982

The election of Donald Trump as 45th US President ‘is an extinction-level event’. The conservative-cum-libertarian commentator Andrew Sullivan used this phrase back in May during the most divisive election campaign in US history, and it captures the multiple catastrophes already unfolding in the wake of this election. Indeed, one of Trump’s first actions as President-elect was to appoint climate change-denier Myron Ebell to oversee the introduction of radical policy changes in the US Environmental Protection Agency. Climate scientists have responded with horror; as one commented in despair, it’s “game over for the climate.”

Trump’s promise to build walls, hospitals and roads is “an ersatz economic populism” that clearly spoke to large swathes of the white working and middle classes, but which is a triumph for the billionaire class he represents. For the global elites Trump’s election means ‘a restoration’ of unrestrained gambling and hoarding. “Bankers … stand to make a killing. Massive tax cuts, including an elimination of the estate tax and big reductions for top earners seem like slam dunks in Trump’s Washington.” This election promises, then, a continuation of economic policies intent on the production of grotesque inequalities.

I want to reflect on this extinction-level event through the lens of the kind of fascism that Trump’s election represents, a fascism Alain Badiou has termed “Democratic Fascism”. I would also like to hold in mind those in the US who now face a future with limited healthcare and permanent reductions to welfare, and the forms of harm that are secured and legitimated through the sexual violence and racialized capitalism this fascism comprises.

In a 1932 article on Democracy and Fascism, Leon Trotsky argues that what links fascism and democracy as modes of governance are the systems of financial capitalism from which they emerge; democracy and fascism are capitalist in origin. Trotsky suggests that it is when the “normal” forms of compromise between capitalism and democracy fail, when “parliamentary screens no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium”, that “the Fascist regime arrives”.

When democracy fails, fascism masses “all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.” The fascist mass, which draws support from across the class system, can exist only in the absence of organized opposition, which for Trotsky means the resistance of organized labour movements. Fascism thrives upon the continual destruction of solidarity between different factions within the working classes, such as, for example, that between working-class citizens and migrant workers.

Alain Badiou’s description of Trump’s election as “democratic fascism” resonates with Trotsky’s analysis. For Badiou, Trump closely resembles “the fascist of the 30s”, but what is different, he states, is the absence of “strong enemies”. Badiou’s point is that the primary resistance to fascism in Europe in the 1930s came from the left. It was a massing on the left that enabled a broad alliance against fascism to emerge. As he reminds us, struggles between people and capital have shaped the modern world, and liberal democracy is one of the compromises that emerged out ongoing political struggles for ‘equality’ – for freedom, economic redistribution, and rights. What is unprecedented about the current juncture is that globalized capitalism has won. Thus, for Badiou, what is signalled by Trump’s election and the rising power of other populist figures, such as Le Pen, Sarkozy, Hofer, Wilders, Orbán, Kaczyński, Petry, Akesson, Babis, Grillo, is the receding of equality as the radical horizon for politics.

Foucault argued that after the Second World War, the horrors of Nazism, and the rise of communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, a state-phobic consensus emerged in Western Europe, in which “the big state” was imagined to be the primary enemy of human freedom. This fear of fascism and hatred of communism gave rise to new transnational political projects such as the European Union and the United Nations. It also created the conditions for globalized capitalism, birthing the institutions that would deliver neoliberalism, the World Bank and the IMF. Today, the fear of fascism has been well and truly trumped as authoritarian states are reemerging in the West.

This democratic fascism – we voted for it – is the fascism of TINA: “There is no alternative”. Historically, we associate fascism with a centralized economy in which relations of production are harnessed to the ideological goals of the regime. The ideological goals of this era of fascism are inseparable from those of free-market capitalism. The “fascist party” is the party of the elites, CEOs, bankers, and the finance sector. It is the fascism of the City of London, Wall Street, Fox News, the Daily Mail and Trump Tower.

I received an email from a friend the day after Trump’s election proposing that we were witnessing capitalism uncoupling itself from the remaining tethers of the liberal state form. What we have learnt in recent years in the UK, in Turkey, Hungary, Australia, and in many other states where democratic and human rights and freedoms of all kinds have been steadily eroded, or have just plain disappeared, is that this uncoupling of capital and democracy doesn’t mean the end of the state. On the contrary, it means: the rise of authoritarian forms of state power in conjunction with terrorising forms of ethnonationalism; the election of far-right politicians; permanent states of emergency; the erosion of legal justice; the deepening of surveillance and police powers; expanding prison populations. This is the age of penal power, an era in which walls and cages are proliferating at multiple scales and locations. The election of a fascist President to the Whitehouse marks a new stage in this seemingly inexorable process.

Like ’30s fascism, democratic fascism operates through the continual and violent crushing of opposition through the creation of class fractions. Fascists inflame divisions, undermining sources of solidarity within and across classes. Democratic fascism garners legitimation through this crafting of otherness. It relies particularly on what Barbara and Karen Fields term “racecraft”: the “trick of transforming racism into race”(2012, 15). Racism is the lynchpin of democractic fascism.

Misogyny and sexual violence are also key in producing the gendered divisions that fascism relies on. Fascism is Patriarchy.

The life and death stakes of democratic fascism are being played out on the streets of American cities, where #notmypresident protesters attempt to communicate the cataclysmic significance of the election of a white supremacist billionaire to the most powerful political position in the world: “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!” Others are documenting hundreds of incidents of racist violence, and the racist abuse scrawled on walls, scribbled on car windscreens, chanted at games and spat into faces. People everywhere, Black and Brown, Latinos, Women, Queers, the undocumented, find themselves “thrown against a sharp white background”.

Much of this violence springs from the legitmation of racism by politicans, an intensification of existing forms of state racism. The crafting of racism by political and media elites to reproduce the nation, to garner political capital and legitimize exceptional measures is evident on every scale and in every sphere of public life. It is manifested in propaganda campaigns against migrants, in a rush of border wall and fence-building, in the detention and deportation of migrants, in the election of charismatic right-wing politicians on anti-immigration platforms, in the formation by neo-Nazis of “human walls” against refugees on state borders, in the creation of armed citizen militia groups and “border hunters”, in the formal and informal dispersal of border enforcement roles to state officials, medical authorities, schools and universities, welfare agencies and landlords, in the incessant production of racial stigma and hate-speech in news reporting, social media and everyday speech, and in rising levels of hate-crime and everyday violence against racialized citizens and foreigners.

In Europe the impact of the 2008 financial crisis has accelerated democratic fascism. The response of politicians and their corporate media arms to unrest over permanent reductions in welfare and public services was to further harness the animosities of the electorate to “the problem of race”. This racism operates largely along the axis of citizenship: legal/illegal, native/foreigner. It is distinguished by anti-migrant racism and, in particular, Islamophobia, but has hardened and legitimized hatred towards all racialized citizens, extending to white Central and Eastern European migrant workers in Western Europe. Anti-immigrant rhetoric “masses” the people across class divides. In the US different histories of colonialism and racism, and unrelenting violence and discrimination against Black citizens, has seen racism play out more sharply along colour lines. While state racism isn’t new, the rise of democractic fascism is.

Fascism pivots on racism but also incites hate against non-racialized minorities, the disabled, queers, women and fascism’s political opponents, from refugee advocates to feminists, labour movements and intellectuals, to the judiciary. Democratic fascism is not only deepening an existing social and economic crisis, but has become the main source of crisis, splintering social solidarity in ways unprecedented since the 1930s.

The election of Donald Trump as 45th President “is an extinction-level event”. Hope lies in global anti-fascist struggle. As Audre Lorde suggests, we must find common ground: “Each one of us here is a link in the connection between anti-poor legislation, gay shootings, the burning of synagogues, street harassment, attacks against women, and resurgent violence against Black people.”

Imogen Tyler is Professor in Sociology at Lancaster University. She tweets at @DrImogenTyler.

The Sociology of Stigma: A Special Session at the British Sociological Association Conference in Manchester (April 4-6, 2017)

Imogen will be convening a special session (papers and discussion) on the sociology of stigma at the BSA in April, 9am -12.30am on Tuesday 4th April (Room 4.205/4.206), Manchester University. All Welcome.

The aim of the special session

Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity [1963] transformed understandings of the social function of stigma. However, the current geopolitical and theoretical context today is a very different one than that of the post-war society which confronted Goffman in the 1950s. T In returning to Stigma, fifty years after its initial publication, we will consider in what ways a re-conceptualization of stigma can assist with illuminating pressing questions of social decomposition, inequality and injustice. This panel discussion will showcase current cutting-edge sociological research on stigma and “stigma politics” across different contexts in neoliberal Britain, from Roma communities to the criminal justice system, from welfare reform and austerity to new disability rights and mad pride activisms.Panel members will each briefly present on their work, leading into a critical discussion concerning the (re)conceptualisation of stigma in sociology today.

This session is being convened by Imogen Tyler who is undertaking a Leverhulme funded research project on the Sociology of Stigma (2015-2018) which seeks to develop new historically informed understandings of stigma (as) power. One of the major aims of this project is to supplement the often individualistic, ahistorical and politically anesthetized conceptualisation of stigma which dominates within the social sciences, with richer historical understandings of the social and political function of stigma as an instrument of social policy and mechanism of the state’s coercive apparatus.

A Sociological Review monograph on the Sociology of Stigma edited by Imogen Tyler and Tom Salter will be published in the winter of 2017.
Imogen’s monograph Stigma Nation: Essays on Inequality and the Politics of Shame will be published in 2018.


Imogen Tyler: Introduction to the special session: Stigmacraft

Stigma (στίγμα) was a common Greek noun meaning mark, dot, or sign, from the verb στίζω (‘to puncture’). In Ancient Greece the word stigma was used to denote marks on the skin made by tattooing, which, as now, involved the use of needles and ink. However, to be marked with a stigma meant you had been tattooed as a punishment. To be stigmatised was to have a crime, written permanently upon your skin. Records of common stigmas include “Thief!” or “Stop me, I’m a runaway” tattooed across the face. These degrading punishments where reserved for non-citizens, such as slaves, captured enemy soldiers or other resident aliens in the Empire. The humiliating sentence of a stigma was frequently accompanied by deportation, often a period of forced exile to a labour camp. While the concept of stigma retains traces of this history we don’t ordinarily think about stigmatization as practices of inscription (written on the body) or as ritualized forms of punishment. This brief introduction to the special session considers the ways in which this genealogy of stigma might frame the discussion in the panel, and inform understandings of the social and political function of shaming practices and punishments today. To this end this introduction proposes a new conceptual vocabulary of stigma which emphasises stigma as a mechanism of coercion, a system of valuation, a communicative terrain and a form of power-knowledge. An account which allows for a focus on the mechanisms, the mechanics, of stigma production, activation and mediation—practices that I term “stigmacraft”.

Aidan McGarry: Romaphobia: The Last Acceptable Racism

Romaphobia is the hatred or fear of those individuals perceived as being Roma/Gypsy/Traveller which involves the negative ascription of group identity and can result in marginalization, persecution and violence (McGarry 2017). Roma communities across Europe are on the fringes of society and actively excluded by the nation and state through processes which stigmatize Romani group identity. Significantly, this paper argues that Roma are the ‘enemy within’ and used by nation and state-building agencies to promote ideas of the ‘exalted subject’ (Thobani 2007) as the benign and desirable citizen. This presentation outlines the impact of Romaphobia by examining housing segregation in two large Roma settlements in Slovakia and Macedonia. The physical separation of communities also fosters distrust and hostility between Roma and the majority; over time a lack of interaction fuels misunderstanding, stereotypes, and scapegoating. Symbolic boundaries between communities are mirrored in physical separation. The presentation concludes by highlighting attempts to foster Roma activism through Roma Pride parades across Europe which simultaneously celebrate Roma identity and challenge ideas of belonging and nationhood.

Gareth Thomas: Locating Down’s Syndrome: Stigma, Disability Publics, and Reproductive Medicine

In this paper, I examine how Down’s syndrome, a genetic condition, is configured in two separate spaces: the prenatal clinic and the public imaginary. I argue that in such spaces, framed by ‘motile’ moments, Down’s syndrome is enacted in two different and competing ways. In the public sphere, the condition is frequently sketched out as a life marked by dignity and worth as part of a ‘disability public’ (Ginsburg and Rapp 2015). Various forms of media and other outputs – autobiographies, blogs, websites, social networks, videos and television shows, activisms, art pieces and exhibitions, etc. – help to construct a ‘Down’s syndrome public’ in which new social imaginaries of difference are erected and that, in turn, constitute a location for alternative engagement. Yet, in the medical setting, where discourse shapes how people come to view bodily difference, Down’s syndrome is enacted subtly and, it seems, inadvertently as a negative outcome, showing how certain ways of being in the world are threatened, stigmatised, and denied. This paper, thus, by troubling the taken-for-granted category of a common yet complex condition, shows how ‘Down’s syndrome worlds’ are made both ‘inhabitable’ and ‘uninhabitable’ at different moments.

Imogen Tyler: Resituating Goffman: From Stigma Power to Black Power

‘people no more fasten the stigma of race upon themselves than cattle sear the brand into their own flesh’ (Fields and Fields, 2012: 102).

This paper responds to calls for a reconstruction of ‘the historical narratives that inform sociological conceptions of the contemporary world’ (Bhambra, 2014:1) through an examination of the sociological history of the stigma-concept. It focuses on a critical re-reading of the understanding of stigma forged by the North American sociologist Erving Goffman in his influential Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity (1963). The reason for returning to Goffman is that despite many refinements of his account, this short book established the conceptual understanding of stigma that continues to buttress contemporary sociological thought. This paper resituates Goffman’s conceptualisation of stigma within the historical context of the black freedom struggles which were shaking ‘the social interaction order’ to its foundations at the moment he crafted his account. It is one of the contentions of this paper that the explosive social and political movements against Jim Crow in the early 1960s, and more broadly against what Cedric Robinson termed the ‘humiliations of racial discrimination’ (Robinson 2000: 318) invites revision of Goffman’s decidedly apolitical account of stigma. This historical revision of Goffman’s stigma concept builds on existing body of critical work on ‘the relationship between race, segregation and the epistemology of … sociology within the United States’ (Bhambra 2014: 472). Throughout it reads Goffman’s stigma concept through the lens of ‘Black Sociology’, a field of knowledge which here designates not only formal sociological scholarship, but civil rights activism, political manifestos, journalism, creative writing, oral histories and memoirs. It is the argument of this paper that placing Goffman’s concept of stigma into dialogue with black epistemologies of stigma allows for a reconceptualization of the social function of stigma as a governmental technology of ‘racialized capitalism’ (Robinson, 1983).

coffee break 

Lisa Morriss: Haunted Futures: Stigmatised motherhood

The paper will discuss the complex stigma faced by mothers who have had one or more children removed by the Family Court. Thus, these mothers do not have their children living with them and may not have any contact with them; for example, if the children have been adopted. These women live in ‘moral quarantine’; with the stigma and shame of being judged to be a profoundly flawed mother. The grief, trauma and loss they experience following the state authorised removal is complex: their child has not died but still exists elsewhere. In narrative interviews, the mothers describe how they live for the future when their child reaches adulthood and contacts them. They may buy Christmas and birthday presents and write letters to their child in preparation for this moment of reunification.  Of course, this may not ever happen. In the paper, I will argue that the women exist in a haunted state of suspended motherhood.

Kirsteen Paton (co-authors Gerry Mooney, Vicky McCall): Place revisited: class, stigma and urban restructuring in the case of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games

In this paper we explore how class is reshaped and mediated by neoliberal urban restructuring, of which the processes of gentrification and territorial stigmatization form critical parts. We focus on the contemporary interrelation of class and urban restructuring by looking at the local lived experiences of the 2014 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Glasgow’s East End. This high-profile regeneration effort in a deprived working-class neighbourhood reveals much about the functions of neoliberal financial capitalism, austerity and contemporary class formation. We show that gentrification and territorial stigmatization work in tandem within urban regeneration policy interventions as a punitive strategy for managing poor populations. This involves land value and (de)valuing of people and creates new localized class inequalities and insecurities. Our research highlights that in the face of national level cuts and commodification, residents’ local relations and support become essential social, economic and political resources. Yet, paradoxically, at the very same time, their local attachment to place is devalued, stigmatized and is at its most precarious. This exposes the coercive elements of the neoliberal class project; a distinct urban class inequality of our time and therefore, we suggest, a critical direction in class analysis.

Tracy Shildrick: Politics, policy and poverty propaganda

Over recent years poverty has re-emerged as a political and popular topic of conversation. This is, in part, due to the dramatic rise in the use of food banks and the emergence of so called ‘poverty porn’ (exemplified by programmes such as Benefits Street). As the numbers of people in poverty increase, as a deliberate consequence of punitive policies and the impact of austerity measures, stigmatisation of those experiencing poverty or in receipt of welfare has also increased apace. This paper illustrates how sustained and critical work is being done by those in political power, with the aid of a right wing media, to manipulate and deliberately distort the terms of the discussion. Poverty and welfare receipt are now almost universally presented as social problems that are self-inflicted and important issues such as in-work poverty are rendered largely invisible and the voices of those experiencing poverty are rarely heard. This paper brings together empirical data collected with people experiencing poverty along with political and policy discussion to illustrate the huge disconnect between the lived realities of poverty and popular and political representations. Through the use of examples, this paper will show how the deployment of rare, fictitious and at times, downright fantastical examples can be ratcheted up at critical political moments in order to garner popular support for policies that are not only punitive and unfair but that also represent a sustained and brutal attack on working class lives and opportunities.

Tracey Jensen – acted as respondent to the special session.

Brigit McWade: Madness, distress and refusing anti-stigma campaigns (Brigit was unable to attend due to illness, but this is the abstract for the talk she planned to give).

Mental health anti-stigma campaigns imagine stigma as produced by “myths” about mental illness circulated within media-culture; myths which can be dissipated through the dissemination of “the facts”. Those who engage in anti-stigma work have a professional interest in promoting the tenets of liberal ‘psy’ discourse about mental health and illness: that mental health conditions are illnesses like any other, and that acceptance that one is ill and engagement with a regime of mental health treatments will result in the recovery of a former healthy self. Statistics like ‘1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year’ are central to high-profile campaigns that incite people to share their stories within a particular narrative framework as a primary mode of taboo-breaking. A counter narrative to this, proposed by mental health service-user/psychiatric survivor activists, is that ‘psy’ discourses are themselves stigmatizing and strongly implicated in the reproduction and entrenchment of social inequalities. Instead anti-anti-stigma activists draw attention to the epistemological and structural violence which underpins ‘psy’ discourses,  the biomedical model of mental illness as individual deficit and neoliberal ideals of healthy, flexible ‘worker-citizens’. They recover their stories from co-option and call-out those behind anti-stigma campaigns as ‘sucking off the stigma’. This paper will consider the ways in which resistance to the inclusive politics of anti-stigma is challenging the ways in which mental health law, policy, services, professionals, patients and media medicalise, individualise and depoliticise madness and distress.