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Stigma Machines Public Lecture York

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic Lecture/ Debate/Seminar


In their 2017 annual report Amnesty International detailed ‘a global trend towards angrier and more divisive politics’, in which ‘the idea of human dignity and equality’ was ‘under vigorous and relentless assault from powerful narratives of blame, fear and scapegoating, propagated by those who sought to take or cling on to power’.

It is the thesis of Imogen's current research that “stigma power” is a productive intersectional lens through which to understand these prevailing social conditions of ‘division and dehumanization’. This lecture introduces her forthcoming monograph, Stigma Machines, which develops a new historically informed account of the social and political function of stigmatization as an instrument of social policy and a constituent mechanism of the state’s coercive apparatus.

To reconceptualize stigma in ways that explicate its function as a form of power Stigma Machines examines the long penal history of stigma. It argues that stigma is designed, crafted and activated to govern populations on multiple scales and in diverse sites and, crucially, that stigma production from above accelerates in periods of political and economic turmoil, often in response to particular demands of capital. To illustrate this, the lecture will focus on a chapter of Stigma Machines entitled ‘Badging the Poor’, which examines the mechanics of intensified welfare stigma in the UK in the wake of the implementation of austerity-driven reforms to social provision since 2010.

Taking a long view on the entanglement of social provision and stigma craft, it considers changing practices of welfare stigma, stretching from the branding and badging of “paupers” in early modern England, to the symbolic shaming of welfare recipients in “poverty porn” journalism and television programming in the wake of the 2008/9 financial crisis. It is the argument of Stigma Machines that the knowledge garnered through histories of penal stigmatization is critical for understanding how inequalities are reproduced and, further, that histories of anti-stigma struggles might inform resistance to the authoritarian turn that characterizes the political present.

External organisation (External collaborations)

NameUniv York