A critical perspective on stigma in physiotherapy: the example of weight stigma

Jenny Setchell, Ukachukwu Abaraogu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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This chapter explores what might be learnt about physiotherapy
by considering its intersection with stigma. Stigma was described
by Goffman as a phenomenon whereby an individual has an attribute
that is deeply discredited by society, and is rejected as a result
as a result of the attribute; where “normal identity” is “spoilt” by
the process of stigmatisation. From a post-structuralist critical
perspective, stigma is not static or finite but is (re)constructed
in various social, historical, cultural and political environments.
A characteristic that is stigmatised in one context may not be in
another. Considering this, the context of physiotherapy has the
possibility to (re)create or (re)inforce stigmatisation of certain attributes not only in ways that may reflect general societal stigma,
but also in ways that may be specific to the profession. In this
chapter, we discuss stigma in physiotherapy broadly, considering
what it is about physiotherapy that may contribute to the discrediting
of certain attributes. We use the example of weight stigma,
a topical and little explored form of stigma that is becoming more
evident in healthcare in the current climate of “the obesity epidemic”.
We draw from empirical research, definitions and narratives
of physiotherapy in different countries (particularly our home
countries of Nigeria and Australia) to help examine weight stigma
in physiotherapy. We explore how weight stigma is enacted in a
physiotherapy context – a profession in which there is an inherent
focus on bodies. We conclude with a discussion of possibilities for
the physiotherapy profession to learn from a greater consideration of stigma
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManipulating Practices: A Critical Physiotherapy Reader
EditorsBarbara E. Gibson, David A. Nicholls, Jenny Setchell, Karen Synne Groven
PublisherCappelen Damm Akademisk, NOASP
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9788202589813
ISBN (Print)9788202636401
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2018


  • stigma
  • physiotherapy
  • body image
  • obesity


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