This article will explore the themes presented in F. Allan Hanson's Where have all the abnormal people gone. Hanson presents the thesis that stigmatization does not disappear yet transforms into new terms for the same discrimination. The axis of stigmatization shifts yet it remains. Michel Foucault's History of Madness explores a similar topic, the way in which nosography is used as a means of social control increasing the dominant discourses' power. Foucauldian analysis is used through out this essay as a critique of Hanson's thesis.
Categorizing phenomena into groups, classes and types has been one of the keys to mankind's survival. With the creation of language man was able to separate phenomena into categories such as ; “dangerous” or “ safe” and “good” and “bad”. These shared linguistic categories amongst humans allowed societies to form and communicate what was important for the survival of the common group. However, with this categorization those who were different within the common group were categorized by various terms and excluded from the group. The systematic categorization of those who were different serves a symbolic function, that is asserting the power, reason, “goodness” of the main group. However, Hanson claims that stigmatization has undergone a thorough transformation; “Now the trend is towards valuing many human differences positively (under the banner of diversity) rather than negatively. As a result, 'different' people are more visible today while 'abnormal' people are less in the public consciousness because that label is dropping out of common use.” (Hanson, p.1) This banner of diversity proves to be deceptive. We shall return to this topic later in this series.
Hanson cites Groffman and Becker's (1963) label theory to discuss the concept of a master status, in which a stigmatized trait becomes the only trait of recognition of the group under stigmatization. He claims the term abnormal is losing its force because traits are no longer elevated to the level of “master status”. This is where psychoanalysis can shed light on the concept of master status. Freud often discussed the idea of the organ without a body, in which the individual is reduced to one single aspect of the body. The associations are numerous, the voice of the strict father, the hand of the mother that provides a caressing touch, the fist of the revolutionary, etc. These single traits come to embody the individual in their totality, they are the master status of the individuals. It is a shift it terminology rather than lack of promotion to a master status. A shift that is more sinister due to its deceitful embodiment
Hanson claims the shift does not describe a trait of the individual rather the term used becomes relationships. He uses the example; “...a blind person is no more disabled then a sighted person (probably less so) when trying to locate things during a power failure in the middle of a dark night” (p.1). Hanson claims the master status is lost because it is the relationship between the individual and the environment that determines the status of disability. It is important to look at the social context of these relationships. The question must be posed; what discourse determines these relationships? It is especially important to look at how the relationships are determined by socioeconomic status. Hanson correctly states that “Instead of acquiescing in the stigma and either submitting to discrimination or attempting to 'pass' as someone who doesn't belong to the stigmatized group they openly and proudly acknowledge their membership in it...” (p.2) It is by identifying with the stigma that stigmatization is partially defeated. This is where Hanson's two mistakes are constituted. Stay tuned for next week's conclusion of Where have all the abnormal people gone review...
Hanson, F.A. (2003). Where have all the abnormal people gone.
"We invoke forms, because we have no principles; we pride ourselves on delicacy, because we have no energy; we flaunt a false humanity, because the feeling of true humanity is foreign to us; we revere the shadow of a king, because we do not know how to respect the people; we are tender towards oppressors, because we are heartless towards the oppressed." - Robespierre