Stigma, Race and Disease in 20th Century America

Historically, stigma attaches to particular health disorders. This study analyzes how this process takes place and how the association becomes loosened. Focusing on a few disorders, including hookworm, cancer, and sickle cell anemia, the author illustrates the interaction of disease, race and stigma. Social context, the particular diseases, the politics of group identity, and the sciences themselves (from bacteriology in the early 20th century to genetics at the end of the century), are seen to feed into the process of stigmatizing individuals. Future research should increase attention to the historical and sociological processes by which stigmatized categories are formed and deconstructed. Our understanding of stigma and global health today in America and in the developing world would gain from such a perspective, according to the author.