Anthropology Seminar presented by Gaynor Macdonald: Stigma backfiring: dementia’s challenge to stigma as strategy of exclusion
Stigma is part of the spectrum of othering with long histories in the ‘western tradition’, including stigmas attached to body size/shape, disability, skin colour, and feared diseases. Stigma and discrimination operate as tools of exclusion or subordination. Dementia interacts with other stigmata: ageism, sexism, economic inequalities, and the politics of medicalising. It challenges liberal notions of the autonomous person, rationality and the rejection of vulnerability. However, the stigma associated with dementia now confronts a formidable challenge to its strategic effectiveness in differentiating the ‘us’ from the ‘them’. There are too many people being diagnosed. The likelihood of ‘you and me’ developing this condition is high. Those with dementia cannot be so easily treated as an other, cast aside. Dementia is turning the lens back onto the moral and social order within which the stigmas of otherness are produced. Thus it provides a lens through which to examine stigma’s contradictions.
About the Speaker
Gaynor Macdonald brings a long-standing interest in personhood and change to critical discussion of the ways in which a person with dementia, the family carer, and the concept of ‘care’ are represented in medical and public discourse, exploring how dementia is understood as part of specific cultural-social experiences. In societies in which cognition is privileged in thinking about human value, dementia is stigmatised as loss of personhood. A critical cultural and social lens that can reposition medical models of ageing and cognitive decline is essential to countering this negativity. Inappropriate or inadequate dementia care stems from lack of appreciation of the significant changes required of a dementia carer, and whether or not family members can make such changes. Anthropology’s understanding of difference, appreciated through its ethnographic method, has an important contribution to make to illuminating these dynamics.
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