A total institution
is place of work and residence where a great number of similarly situated people, cut off from the wider community for a considerable time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life. The term was coined and defined by American sociologist Erving Goffman
Erving Goffman was a Canadian-born sociologist and writer.The 73rd president of American Sociological Association, Goffman's greatest contribution to social theory is his study of symbolic interaction in the form of dramaturgical perspective that began with his 1959 book The Presentation of Self...
in his paper "On the Characteristics of Total Institutions" presented in April 1957 at the Walter Reed Institute
This article is about the U.S. Army medical research institute . Otherwise, see Walter Reed .The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is the largest biomedical research facility administered by the U.S. Department of Defense...
's Symposium on Preventive and Social Psychiatry
, with an expanded version appearing in Donald Cressey's collection The Prison
and reprinted in Goffman's 1961 collection Asylums
Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates is a book written by sociologist Erving Goffman in 1961. Asylums was a key text in the development of deinstitutionalisation. The book is one of the first sociological examinations of the social situation of mental...
. In Discipline and Punish
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is a book by philosopher Michel Foucault. Originally published in 1975 in France under the title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison, it was translated into English in 1977. It is an interrogation of the social and theoretical mechanisms behind...
, Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...
discussed total institutions in the language of complete and austere institutions
The main point
The main point of the total institution is that many human needs of the entire bloc of people are under bureaucratic control. These needs are handled in an impersonal and bureaucratic manner. Typically, the inmate is excluded from knowledge of the decisions taken concerning his fate. Whether the official grounds are medical, as in concealing treatment plan, diagnosis, and rough length of stay from tuberculosis patients, or military, as in concealing travel destination from enlisted men, such exclusion provides staff with a special basis of control over and distance from inmates. People who enter a total institution are deprived of the supports provided by the social arrangements of their home worlds and undergo a series of mortification of self. The inmate suffers a mortification of self via social and physical abuse.
A person's self is mortified by the following processes:
1. Role dispossession
. In civil life, people are free to plan their lives such that they can perform a succession of roles throughout the day and the life-cycle. Life is structured such that no single role forbids playing other roles. In the total institution, on the other hand, membership disturbs role-planning because the separation of the inmate from the wider world can continue indefinitely.
2. Programming and identity trimming
. Admissions procedures (such as bathing, searching, taking a life history, and instructing as to rules) function to code and shape the person into "an object that can be fed into the administrative machinery of the establishment." Such programming inevitably involves exclusion of most of the person’s prior bases of self-identification.
3. Dispossession of property, name, and "identity kit"
. After admission to a total institution, people are stripped of certain possessions in which self feelings are invested. They usually lose their full name, are stripped of personal possessions and are denied access to the cosmetic and closing supplies or "identity kit" required for managing personal image. In the absence of these resources, people lose their capacity to present their usual image to others.
4. Imposition of degrading postures, stances, and deference patterns
. The inmate is often required to adopt stances and postures—such as submitting to strip searches or standing at attention—which mortify the self. Furthermore, the necessity of begging or asking for water, matches, cigarettes, or permission to use the telephone as well as staff expectations of verbal deference force the inmate into undignified verbal postures. Corresponding to the indignities the person must enact are the indignities he or she must suffer from others, such as poking at negative attributes, name-calling, and teasing. Whether the indignities are enacted by the person or imposed from without, they result in people adopting a stance inconsistent with their notion of self.
5. Contaminative exposure
. Contaminative exposure includes physical and interpersonal one. First, the person's information preserve is violated, since data about the person's past behaviors and social statuses are collected in a file accessible to staff. Further, as the total institution offers no private spaces to conceal usual private activities, the person is compelled to expose himself in humiliating circumstances. The person is also contaminated by forced interpersonal contact. The most obvious and direct example is forced submission to strip searches. More pervasive is the status-contamination people undergo by being mixed with people of different statuses and ages, and the denial of the right to hold oneself above others via a formal style of address.
6. Disruption of usual relation of individual actor and his acts
. In looping
, any natural protective response by an individual
to an assault on the self is "collapsed into the situation" as subject matter for the next assault, stripping the individual of the usual option to step back and comment on the situation.
, the individual is subject to regulation of minute details of activity and conduct that under normal circumstances are left to individual judgment and planning.
7. Restrictions on self-determination, autonomy, and freedom of action
Goffman defines total institutions as social arrangements that regulate according to one rational plan and under one roof, all spheres of individuals' lives—working, playing, eating and sleeping. A principal social arrangement in a present community is that the human being tends to work, play and sleep in different places with different persons under different authorities and without any overarching plan. As Goffman states, the main characteristic of total institutions can be described as a disruption of the barriers usually separating these three spheres of life. Firstly, all aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same central authority. Secondly, each phase of the participant's daily activity is conducted in the immediate attendance of a large group of others, all of whom are treated similarly and required to do the same things jointly. Therefore, any autonomy or freedom to pursue one's own interests, make one's own choices or associate with the persons of one's own choosing is denied. Thirdly, all phases of the daily activities are closely planned, with one activity leading into the next at a prearranged time. This succession of activities is inflexibly imposed upon inmates from above. Finally, the different forced activities are brought together into an overall plan, presumably designated for accomplishing the objections of the institution.
The word "total" refers not simply to the thorough way in which total institution organizes all activities—working, eating, sleeping, leisure and therapy sessions—but also to the strategies by which the institution intrudes the inner life of its residents. In civil life, as Goffman notices, institutions generally claim the inmate's overt behavior alone, releasing to the individual the question of his personal attitude toward the organization. But in total institutions, the staff can lawfully busy itself with the inmate's inner responses to authority via a process which Goffman defines as "looping." The inmate finds to his dismay that his protective reaction to an attack upon his dignity itself collapses back into the situation and gives the staff reasons for yet further controls.
According Goffman, total institutions create a barrier between the resident and the wider world, making the "curtailment of self". As Goffman notes, there is a strong division between the staff and the residents in total institutions. This is partly because staff can go home at the end of their work shifts whereas residents may have limited or no contact with the outside world and frequently end up feeling disconnected from the wider society and trapped in the institution. Their feelings can turn into pique toward personnel members who are able to leave whenever they wish. Inhabitants of total institutions are aware of what they are missing. They know they lack the freedom they had before going into their current situation. The social distance between the staff and inmates is great, and each group tends to be unfriendly toward the other.
Typology of total institutions
Total institutions are divided by Goffman into five different types:
- institutions established to care for people felt to be both harmless and incapable: the homes for the indigent, the orphaned, the aged, and the blind.
- places established to care for people felt to be incapable of looking after themselves and a threat to the community, albeit an unintended one: leprosaria, mental hospital
Mental hospital may refer to:*Psychiatric hospital*hospital in Nepal named Mental Hospital...
s, and TB sanitaria.
- institutions organised to protect the community against what are felt to be intentional dangers to it, with the welfare of the people thus sequestered not the immediate issue: concentration camps, P.O.W. camp
A prisoner-of-war camp is a site for the containment of combatants captured by their enemy in time of war, and is similar to an internment camp which is used for civilian populations. A prisoner of war is generally a soldier, sailor, or airman who is imprisoned by an enemy power during or...
s, penitentiaries, and jail
A jail is a short-term detention facility in the United States and Canada.Jail may also refer to:In entertainment:*Jail , a 1966 Malayalam movie*Jail , a 2009 Bollywood movie...
- institutions purportedly established the better to pursue some worklike tasks and justifying themselves only on these instrumental grounds: colonial compounds, work camps, boarding school
A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals...
s, ships, army barrack
Barrack or Barracks may refer to:*Barracks, military housing*Barrack *Barracks communism, political term*A misspelling of the name of Barack Obama...
s, and large mansions from the point of view of those who live in the servants' quarters.
- establishments designed as retreats from the world even while often serving also as training stations for the religious; examples are convents, abbeys, monasteries, and other cloisters.
According S. Lammers and A. Verhey, some 80 percent of Americans will ultimately die not in their home, but in a total institution. In recent decades the nursing home industry has quickly extended, and particular regions of the country have become huge territorial nursing homes where we hide the aged and they hide from us. Long before their death, they are buried in the folds of the total institution, hidden, out of sight and out of mind. In the United States, dying in a total institution has become a common experience.
Tourism and the total institution
Sociologists have pointed out that tourist
Tourism is travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people "traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes".Tourism has become a...
venues such as cruise ship
A cruise ship or cruise liner is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the ship's amenities are part of the experience, as well as the different destinations along the way...
s are acquiring many of the characteristics of total institutions. Tourists may not be aware that they are being controlled, even constrained, but the environment has been designed to subtly manipulate the behavior of patrons. These examples differ from the traditional examples in that the influence is short term.
David J. Rothman is an American author and professor of Social Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Rothman's work has focused on the American history of social medicine and the current health care practices with respect to professionalism in medicine...
states that "historians have confirmed the validity of Goffman's concept of 'total institutions' which minimizes the differences in formal mission to establish a unity of design and structure."