Left Out: Situating Stigma in U.S. Radical and Left Social Movement History

Friday, January 2, 2015: 4:10 PM
Conference Room E (Sheraton New York)
Christina B. Hanhardt, University of Maryland at College Park
This paper considers the methodological and theoretical challenges of tracing social stigma through U.S. radical and left social movements in the post-WWII period. Focusing on the frameworks of harm reduction and prison abolitionism, this paper asks how activist historiographies have defined social movements that organize in the name of – or exclude – those perceived as having fallen through the cracks of mainstream economies and institutions. I focus in particular on the treatment of individuals who may use drugs, exchange sex for money, carry a diagnosis of mental illness, or have been incarcerated. Much social movement scholarship organized around stigmatized populations has critiqued stereotypes and moralism; nonetheless, this work often points to criminalized activity or mental illness as adaptive or symptomatic but ultimately unacceptable. At the same time, queer and disability studies has focused on the construction of social norms, and arguably has presented such forms of status as a kind of a vanguard. This paper considers how one might bring together multiple fields too rarely put into conversation: the history of postwar social movements; the sociology of deviance; queer and disability theories of identity, normativity, and rationality; public health approaches to stigma management and risk; and critical histories of social policies on poverty, addiction, and crime. I ask what a comparative view can tell us about the shifting status of stigma in social movements, as well as how stigma has been used to construct and differentiate social movements historiographically.