Oh, Bot­tom Thou Art Changed: Stigma Sym­bols and the Cor­po­real Cod­ings of Shame

Symposium:


Session Title:

  • How dare you? Acts of Deviance and Strategies of Discreditation

Presentation Title:

  • Oh, Bot­tom Thou Art Changed: Stigma Sym­bols and the Cor­po­real Cod­ings of Shame

Presenter(s):



Abstract:

  • Panel: How dare you? Acts of Deviance and Strategies of Discreditation

    Stigma is a Greek word mean­ing a body mark, de­signed to ex­pose some­thing un­usual and bad about the moral or phys­i­cal sta­tus of a per­son. In the fol­low­ing paper, I will pre­sent a cor­po­real semi­otic study of acts of per­for­ma­tive dis­cred­i­ta­tion by fo­cus­ing on the use of what Erv­ing Goff­man calls stigma sym­bols, par­tic­u­larly the use of so called ‘badges of shame’, aimed as typ­i­cally dis­tinc­tive sym­bols to be worn by a spe­cific group or an in­di­vid­ual for the pur­pose of pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion or per­se­cu­tion. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is the coded na­ture of these sym­bols, that is, the use of colour-cod­ing to dis­tin­guish per­se­cuted groups, the use of geo­met­ric sym­bols and graphic sym­bols to be worn by stig­ma­tised in­di­vid­u­als, the use of mark­ing and brand­ing on peo­ple’s skins, par­tic­u­larly the brand­ing of al­phanu­mer­i­cal sym­bols on in­di­vid­u­als.

    The badge of shame is not only a vi­sual aid in sit­u­a­tions where nor­mal and de­viant meet, but an em­bod­ied lan­guage or a lan­guage of marked bod­ies, whose en­act­ment have the per­for­ma­tive ef­fect of so­cial re­jec­tion. The biopo­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics here is not aimed as a Fou­cault­ian dis­ci­plina­tion through cor­po­real prac­tices, but a per­for­ma­tive act where in­di­vid­u­als are ren­dered less than human, in­fra-hu­man- where the per­for­mance of shame al­lows the in­di­vid­ual to gain, in the eyes of the nor­malised au­di­ence, the sta­tus of an an­i­mal. The chang­ing from man to ass, to an­i­mal, is thus a beas­t­ial­is­ing per­for­mance in­stalled at the level of the body, and of a per­for­ma­tive act that trans­forms the body from human to in­frahu­man, thus per­form­ing a dy­namic of im­bal­ance that in­ten­si­fies the rhythms of power and dom­i­na­tion.

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