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Jigsaws, Models and the Sociology of Stigma

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The impact of the stigma often associated with chronic illness cannot be explained by sociology alone, yet sociology has a significant contribution to make, most obviously through the analysis of stigma relations as social structures. This paper draws on critical realist philosophy and advances a jigsaw model comprising logics, relations and figurations to assist empirical enquiry. A case is made for focusing on interrelations between the logic of shame and the relations of stigma it gives rise to and other logics/relations across a range of figurations. A new framework for understanding and explaining stigmatising illness is put forward and subsequently applied to contemporary programmes of stigma reduction. The principal thesis of the paper is that across many of the figurations in which chronic illness features the logic of shame and its relations of stigma have lost ground to the logic of culpability and its relations of deviance. In short, people with chronic illness are increasingly being held culpable for their condition.

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