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Crisis Rhetoric, Stigma Play: The Contested Status of Humanities Majors on an Elite University Campus

Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


This article extends symbolic interactionist thought on authenticity and stigma allure into the context of higher education in the United States where the status of the humanities is contested. Our abductive analysis of twenty‐nine, semistructured interviews with undergraduates at an elite university reveals that selecting a humanities major has social costs. Yet the students who opt into these majors renegotiate ideologies, practices, and resources in ways that generate meaningful educational experiences. Navigating these problematic situations in which status is threatened enables the social production and personal aesthetic experience of authenticity. These findings add a new evidentiary basis to theory on stigma allure and, in doing so, demonstrate that when rhetorics of crisis collide with the late modern quest for authenticity voluntary stigma can become a powerful, if also unwieldy, resource.