Understanding and addressing stigma through qualitative research: Four reasons why we need qualitative studies

Sarah E. Stutterheim*, Sarah E. Ratcliffe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Stigmatization is a socially and culturally constructed process, occurring in social interactions, whereby a person is labeled as different and then devalued, resulting in status loss and discrimination. In this article, we present four key arguments as to why qualitative research is imperative to understanding and changing stigma: (a) Stigmatization is complex and qualitative research is well-suited for exploring complex phenomenon; (b) Qualitative research is participatory and offers substantial opportunities for meaningful community engagement, which promotes agency and empowerment, and redresses power imbalances; (c) Qualitative research is imperative to effective stigma reduction; and (d) Qualitative research informs further scientific inquiry and plays an important role in ensuring that we focus on important and relevant aspects of stigma in our research. For each argument, we outline relevant literature and discuss our own experiences with conducting qualitative research on stigmatization. We lean on both theory and practice, paying attention to not only the outcomes of, but also the processes involved, in conducting qualitative research on stigmatization. We then address two criticisms of qualitative research that undermine its legitimacy. We conclude that to better understand stigma, to redress power imbalances, and to inform interventions and further scientific inquiry, we must continue to conduct qualitative research across stigmatized identities and conditions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-19
Number of pages12
JournalStigma and Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • Arguments
  • Community Involvement
  • Stigma
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Transgender
  • Criticism
  • HIV
  • Action Research

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