Using a symbolic interactionist lens, this analysis of existing literature examines how people attempt to exit and/or repair a “spoiled identity” (Goffman 1963). Examining a wide range of stigmatized or deviant-labeled groups are discussed including individuals experiencing homelessness, justice involved individuals, drug and alcohol addicts, mental health disordered individuals, caregivers, sex workers, displaced workers, and those holding hidden identities in order to hide a temporary deviant identity. Four strategies are analyzed: (1) othering; (2) hiding/disguising a stigmatized identity; (3) embracing an identity, and (4) repairing a stigmatized identity. This analysis contributes to our understanding of identity change by highlighting how various groups with stigmatized identities enact similar, “generic” strategies (Schwalbe et al. 2000) when doing identity exit or repair work. It also illustrates the vast landscape in which exiting an identity can occur. In analyzing strategies often used by marginalized groups, the analysis is presented with the underlying philosophy of Harding’s (1992) notion of detachment in that one does not completely detach from the study or subject, rather one maintains openness outside of her own assumptions in order to better understand another’s unique experience and perspective, and Harding’s (1992) notion of reflexivity in which one must always reflect on her own situation and assumptions while doing research. Future studies may offer insight for how those providing services, resources, and support for individuals exiting a stigmatized identity can help facilitate these identity change strategies.


Sarah Epplen

Committee Member

Emily Boyd

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Social and Behavioral Sciences



Rights Statement

In Copyright