Humanization Versus Individualization

Two items that landed in my RSS feeds allow me to examine the differences between the processes of humanization and individualization.

First, via Elizabeth Pisani, the Canadian NGO Stepping Stones has launched a media campaign to humanize sex workers:

It is a common problem for stigmatized categories that they are often reduced to the stigmatized identity, which becomes an inescapable master status. Other identities they may have are simply ignored or treated as irrelevant, with all the weight given to the stigmatized status.

““We have feelings too. We are someone’s kids. We’re someone’s mother, someone’s sister. Don’t just look at us and say “Oh, that’s a whore.””

Humanization and normalization are then important processes to lift the weight of the stigma. And as Pisani notes, it’s not easy:

“It’s that criminalisation which creates stigma and the need for campaigns like this; the stigma in turn makes it hard to run these campaigns. The Chronicle Herald reports that ad agency Extreme Group‘s staff used their own grandmothers and Sepping Stones employees for the campaign because “regular” models didn’t want the job.”

Another aspect of stigmatization is the fact that authorities will have a moral discourse about you, but the stigmatized are not given a voice. So, another part of the campaign is to correct this: let the stigmatized speak for themselves (which also contributes to humanizing them).

Humanization then is used to challenge a system by questioning publicly the validity of the stigma.

At the other end of the spectrum, individualization can be used to cover systemic harms by reducing such harms to the wrongdoing of specific individuals. Think Bernie Madoff. Case in point:

“Sean Fitzpatrick, Ireland’s most toxic banker, is so unpopular that in a recent charity auction, 30 people competed for the opportunity to push the button of a wrecking machine to crush his old BMW car.

Mr Fitzpatrick, the former head of Anglo Irish Bank, is the most unpopular man in Ireland, blamed more than any other individual for the country’s economic disaster. He could be described as Ireland’s Sir Fred Goodwin but he is held responsible for much more than excessive bank bonuses. The charge against him is he virtually bankrupted Ireland, wrecking the living standards of generations to come through a mixture of economic illiteracy, vanity and, above all, greed.

His BMW was repossessed after he was declared bankrupt. The opportunity to destroy it was advertised on eBay: “This is your chance to crush this cursed car which is the symbol of all that was wrong with the Celtic Tiger.” His bankruptcy hearings were told all he had left was €500 (£430)in cash, a monthly income of €188, a two-year-old Volkswagen Passat and the BMW, said to have no value. Technically, he had assets worth €51m. Trouble is, he had also run up personal debts €147m. He is said to be financially reliant on his wife who, luckily for him, has assets of more than €1m.”

But, of course, by focusing on the wrongdoings of specific individuals (and the more flamboyant the better). However, to focus on these individuals hide the scale of the systemic harm done so that punishing them might be morally satisfying and deserved, but it obscures more than it reveals as to the extent of the corporate criminal nature of the crisis.

4 thoughts on “Humanization Versus Individualization

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  2. I used this example in my Intro to Soc course today while discussing status sets, master status, ascribed/achieved status, etc. From what I could tell, the students found it extremely interesting. I think it was one of the few times during class today that a bunch of students squinted their eyes, began nodding their heads, and really showed that, “Ahhhh, I get it” kind of look. Excellent example…thanks!

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