Total Institutions Essay

Total Institutions Essay

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Total Institutions


     In the year 1961, the author, Erving Goffman, published a book
consisting of text and studies on mental patients and inmates, in what he has
called “total institutions”. There is a large focus on the life of mental
patients, due to his year long study in an American institution. However, the
center of my reading was based on the institutions and the lifestyles that
are reached when placed in such establishments.
     When describing these institutions the author referred to them as
segregated communities. This is exactly what they are. One is cut off from
the outside society, with little or no contact at all until the inmates stay is
over. The character of these institutions is one that is an intimidating
barrier to the outside world. One who’s barriers could be as simple as a
fence or a locked door, but as distinct and scary as the high walls, thick bars
and razor wire topped, electrically protected fences of today’s top
penitentiaries. Every institution provides a new world to its members, in
most successful cases, changing the perception and reality of the inmate.
     Through the years of research conducted by the author, Goffman
concluded that the total institutions in our societies breakdown into five
rough groupings. There is room to expand on each one of these groupings as
these findings are not precise, interpretation is the key when classifying the
establishments. His first conclusion was to classify all institutions that were
established to care for people who were incapable and harmless to
themselves and one another. One may relate to these institutions as the
may be part of our lives on a daily basis. This may be the nursing home
where the elderly, widow/widowed grandmother/father is living out his last
fine days on this earth. It could be one of the less than desirable child
rearing homes, such as an orphanage. Or this category may also include
where the unfortunate, the wanderer, and the vagrant all congregate, our
nations homeless shelters. Whatever the institution may be, it is defined by
a place where one may go to receive treatment, nourishment and attention
when there may be no other opportunity afforded them.
     The second of these groupings, encompasses all of the institutions
that care for people who are inca...


... middle of paper ...


...s schedules are all imposed by the officials that run the
institution. The goals of the institution are fulfilled by these schedules and
the tasks that are completed by the inmates, whether it may be a work
service crew maintaining the grounds or by a janitorial staff maintaining the
interior. Even though these institutions are similar in many instances to
others, the do however have more contact with the outside world and rely on
that contact to enhance its abilities to rehabilitate.
     Total institutions are ones that will take away and identity and not ask
questions. One where inmates are moved as managed group and looked down
upon as secretive and bitter. Treating one like they are inferior and, guilty
and weak is no way to re-establish someone’s life and return them to the
world. Total institutions are incompatible with family , which is one of the
strongest values that we need to maintain in this disintegrating world
environment. We need to embrace family and do what we can to maintain our
natural family values all throughout our travels and daily life.
1961 erving goffman
asylums; essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates

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