In this article in Organization, we, Milena Leybold and Monica Nadegger, unpack how stigmatized groups reconstruct stigma despite their communicative separation. We conducted a netnographic study to investigate a case of pole dancers—and later sex workers, strippers, and other stigmatized groups—protesting the stigmatization practice of shadowbanning and the sex-work stigma on Instagram.
The abstract of this article reads as follows:
This article investigates how stigmatized groups get organized to fight stigmatization through content-moderation practices on social media platforms. We apply a communicative understanding of stigmatization and stigma management, theorizing stigmatization as disruptive for a stigmatized group’s communicative connections to (non-)stigmatized groups.
This communicative separation makes it particularly difficult for the stigmatized to organize the beneficial relations to other (non-)stigmatized groups needed to reconstruct stigma jointly. In this article, we investigate how stigmatized groups reconstruct their stigma despite communicative separation. Empirically, we build on a netnographic case study of pole dancers protesting a shadowban on Instagram. Shadowbanning represents a stigmatization practice that moderates content based on its association with sex work.
The analysis shows how pole dancers and other stigmatized groups manage stigmatization through a process of stigma maintenance and stigma reconstruction. By emphasizing their difference to sex work through assimilating fitness jargon and distancing themselves from the sex industry, the pole dancers maintain the stigma but regain their communicative abilities by siding with Instagram. This victory initiates a shift in emphasizing solidarity and allows pole dancers and other stigmatized groups to embrace the stigma, forge new ties, and reach out to (non-)stigmatized groups to reconstruct stigma jointly (see Figure 1 below).
This study extends the stigma management literature by showing the interlinkage between different stigma-management strategies and their implications for overcoming communicative separation. We conclude by discussing the hardships of organizing stigma reconstruction and stigmatized groups’ strategies to overcome them.
Title image: Instagram Post by one of the main actors addressing the shadowban and the impact on pole dancers. Credits: Dan Rosen, @danrosenpole [Instagram], Instagram post.