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MY aim in this paper is to privilege the realm of the personal and the emotional subcontinent of Islamic collective identity formation and the ways in which Islamic identity occurs through verbal communication and is transcribed in bodily practices and management of public space. I use the concept of stigma to the extent that it articulates the private corporeal realm to the public domain of perception, social interaction, and communication. Of course, reflection on definitions of private and public spheres from the vantage point of an Islamic self inevitably leads to a critical reading of the hegemonic narratives of secular modernity and liberal definitions of self. Islamic stigma appears as a puzzling notion; one is more accustomed to speak of the stigmatization of persons or social groups. Indeed, one can speak more easily, for example, about the stigmatization of Muslim girl students who claim the right to wear a headscarf and who have faced exclusion from schools and universities during the last two decades because of the actions of secularist politicians in France, a country undergoing Muslim immigration, and also in Turkey, a Muslim-majority country. But one can also speak of stigmatization of secular women by compulsory veiling in a hegemonic Islamic public sphere, such as Iran since the 1979 revolution. Today the term stigma is applied more to the feelings of humiliation provoked by social exclusion and social oppression; it is applied more to the disgrace itself rather than the bodily evidence of it. This is why it is easier to speak of the ways in which Muslims are stigmatized or the ways in which SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Fall 2003) The Voluntary Adoption of Islamic Stigma Symbols NILÜFER GÖLE Islam is used to stigmatize other people. In this respect, as Erving Goffman reminds us, the notion of stigma lost its original Greek sense that originated from the signs that were cut or burned into the body to advertise that the bearer was a slave, a criminal, or a traitor, a blemished person to be avoided in public places (Goffman , 1963: 1). Stigma was meant to refer to bodily signs designed to expose something terrible about the moral status of the signifier . What I have in mind in using the notion of Islamic stigma is to bring forth the bodily aspect of it and thereby understand the ways in which social difference and public exclusion are carried out by bodily signs and practices. Telling a story about Islamic stigma informs simultaneously about the realm of the private individual as well as the realm of the public. Stigma refers to an individual sign, to social information the individual transmits about himself that disqualifies him and creates an obstacle to being fully accepted by society. A stigma therefore designates an attribute that profoundly discredits the individual. But a stigma is also subject to public perception. We need, as Goffman (1963: 3) argues, to understand a language of communication of relationships and not just attributes. Because it is not the attribute as a thing in itself, such as a headscarf or a beard, that can be judged as creditable or discreditable—it is the normative cultural values and social relations of class and power that determine our perceptions. Hence, the Islamic headscarf supplies information about the bearer, but is also subject to public perception. It communicates the individual and collective motivations of those who adopt it as much as the perceptions of those who reject it. The symbol of the headscarf makes sense as a language of relationships between those who assert their orientation toward values of Islam and those social classes that owe their status to normative values of modernity, such as equality and liberty. It reveals a realm of relationality and conflict between those who are bestowed with values of modernity and those who are not in conformity. I am referring to an active appropriation of a stigma symbol and hence a shift from a symbol of submissiveness to one of 810 SOCIAL RESEARCH assertiveness. Second, the adoption of an Islamic symbol is not solely a personal choice but a collective one, in the sense that it follows a collective logic of a social protest...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 809-828
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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