Institutions Essay, Research Paper

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 incapable and threatening to communities and

themselves. This grouping is distinct in its findings and is very focused on

the mental hospitals and wellness centers in or society. In such

establishments, the patient is stripped of all things personal, to build a new

self. Stripping ones identity also allows doctors and nurses to begin to

identify the problems within the mind without the ability of the patient to

hide or be distracted by the outside world.

Institutions purportedly established to pursue work like tasks, and

justify themselves only on those grounds is the third grouping. Such

institutions include, but again are not limited to, boarding schools, military

academies, and the Job Corps. The idea behind these institutions is to

inform and educated one in a way that will help them to be successful in life.

The one factor that attracts the majority of its members is the chance to

make ones self better. To excel and to give hope to a better life , one with

direction and purpose.

The forth group of Goffman s conclusion, was that of establishments

that are made as retreats from ordinary life, while still serving as a station

for religion. This was very particular in its classification, the most specific

of all the groups. The only institutions that could be included were the ones,

that the majority of the world, has absolutely no idea, what is included in

the lifestyle of these institutions. The grouping includes, monasteries and

covenants, Buddhist temples and the like. For one to be include in such a

lifestyle is to truly believe in the higher power. to turn your life willfully

over to a way of life and to separated from everything that one has ever

known, would be of great difficulty. It would be doing this that would

profess ones faith, desire, and trueness to what one is doing.

Finally the institutions that are established to protect the community

against intentional dangers, such as, jails, juvenile holdings, and

penitentiaries. Again, these are a group of establishments that have the

ability to strip people of their identity for as long as they are a member of

this segregated community. All the aspects of everyday life are conducted

in one place and under one authority, usually a warden, sheriff or other

member of the staff. Ones self is stripped and one is thrown unwillingly

into a group or subculture of its own. In this new group, all activities are

completed at the same time, in the same space and together as a large

faceless assembly. The activities that are participated in are those that are

strictly scheduled throughout the day and roll from one into the other.

These rigorous 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.

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