Goffman’s Theory on Total Institutions

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We interact with a variety of people on a regular basis who influence our behavior but who are not family or friends. Many of these people we encounter because of their roles within particular social institutions with which we interact. They are part of our secondary group members; their opinions and behaviors shape us. Sometimes people live, work, eat, sleep and socialize in a single unit where their lives are largely controlled by those in charge; the organization controls the totality of one’s life.

(Goffman, 1961) Examples of them include orphanages, boarding schools, prisons, convents, hospitals, military barracks, and boot camps. When people live in total institutions, their identities become limited and shaped by those with whom they live. They lose the opportunity to construct a full social identity as they lose the ability to interact with the world. (Vissing, (2011), “An Introduction to Sociology”, sec. 2. 5) This is Goffman’s theory on institutions as socialization agents. It best aligns with my personal view on institutional sociology.

I will discuss how socialization in institutions affect our sociology. I will present to you examples of life in two institutions that express my agreement with Goffman’s theory after a brief overview of theorist, Erving Goffman. Goffman’s books include: Asylums, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Encounters, Behavior in Public Places, Stigma, Interaction Ritual, Strategic Interaction, Frame Analysis, and Gender Advertisements.

Article: “The Interaction Order. ” Total institutions – mental hospitals, prisons, monasteries, convents, the military, and boarding schools all have one thing in common: they are all total institutions – places of “residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of ERVIN GOFFMAN time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life. ” It is here where “under one roof and according to one rational plan, all spheres of individuals’ lives – sleeping, eating, playing, and working are regulated.

To one degree or another, inhabitants of such facilities are stripped of the freedoms and resources to manage their self-presentation that are normally provided by social arrangements. As a result, they are subjected to mortifications of self, processes of “killing off” the multiple selves possessed prior to ones entrance into the total institution and replacing them with one totalizing identity over which the person exercises little, if any, control.

Here is the life of the prison inmate or military recruit: shaven head dressed in institutional clothing, substitution of a number or insult for ones name, disposed of personal property, endless degradation, and complete loss of privacy over intimate information and matters of personal hygiene. All work together to construct a self radically different from the one that entered the establishment. (Gilligan, (2010), “Contemporary Sociology Theory 302”, p. 1) Jennifer O’Brien wrote a report entitled “A Day in the Life of a Mental Hospital Patient”. Let’s look at what happened in a day of a patient in a mental hospital.

As we already know they will have their own set of very strict rules and regulations which may vary from institution to institution. Some people say those rules and regulations are entirely the reason why they are so afraid to check themselves into a mental hospital to seek help for a mental problem. They unsually insist that these rules and regulations are for the safety of their patients. Of course, I could not report what happened in the whole day but try to imagine the social impact on an individual after being here for 4 hours from 6:05 until 10.

00 am. 6:05 am: You lie awake in your tiny bed, underneath the salmon covers, your neck sore from sleeping on one pillow (you asked for another but you’ll need a doctor’s order to have more than one. ) 7:00 am: Morning ERVING GOFFMAN checks. A tech bangs on your door just as you have started to drift off into a sweet sleep again and informs you that you must be up for breakfast in thirty minutes. 7:15 am: You drag your exhausted body out of bed and grab a cup of the weakest, wateriest coffee you have ever ingested from the nurses station.

You line up against the wall and prepare to be paraded down to the cafeteria. 8:30 am: Community group. You discuss at length the rules and regulations of the hospital (only use the phone for 10 minutes at a time, bath buckets are under no circumstances to be kept in your room, no towels or food in your rooms, no physical contact with other patients. ) Most people are there for depression, some for anxiety, many for suicide attempts. One or two are there for insomnia, a few for manic episodes and one boy about your age is there for homicidal ideation.

You yourself are there for a suicide attempt (flashback to overdosing on 3000 milligrams of Seroquel, sleeping for 36 hours and then slitting your wrists, slicing each artery, spewing blood all over the walls of your college dormitory. ) 9:47 am: Code one! A 90-pound schizophrenic girl screams and punches the walls (she hears voices and sees monsters that aren’t there) and a code team is called to sedate and restrain her. Incidents like this are uncommon on your unit but not unheard of. They take her away, kicking and screaming. 10:00 am: You and Todd sit side by side reading a book and holding hands.

His hand is rough and you can’t help but smile. He makes you a little less scared in an unfamiliar setting like this. A tech glares and scolds you for breaking the coveted “no-touching” policy. (O’Brien, (2012), “A Day in the Life of a Mental Hospital Patient”, p. 1) I chose a mental hospital report over a regular medical hospital because I thought it would give a much clearer picture of the sociology. ERVIN GOFFMAN There are increasingly large numbers of offenders incarcerated for any number of crimes in the United States. I choose to look closer at sex offenders.

As a result of increasingly large numbers of incarcerated offenders in the United States, numerous inmates are returning to society from prison each year. There are currently over 1. 6 million criminal offenders living in American correctional facilities; approximately 1 in every 201 people in the U. S. are locked behind bars (Guerino, Harrison, and Sabol 2011). The majority of these people, nearly 650,000 inmates annually, are released from state and federal prisons (Swanson, Rohrer, and Crow 2010). Following release from incarceration, many of these ex-inmates quickly discover considerable setbacks in the community.

Despite their liberation from incarceration, former inmates may encounter debt, homelessness, substance abuse, and unemployment that make life on the outside more arduous (Travis, Solomon, and Waul 2001; Visher, La Vigne, and Travis 2004). Strong family support may be especially critical for sex offenders. Between 10,000 and 20,000 such offenders are estimated to be released annually from American correctional facilities (Center for Sex Offender Management 2007), and today, more than 700,000 individuals are registered sex offenders in the United States (Ewing 2011).

Sex offenders arguably face more challenging impediments to successful reintegration (Burchfield and Mingus 2008; Levenson and Cotter 2005; Levenson, D’Amora, and Hern 2007; Levenson and Hern 2007; Mercardo, Alvarez, and Levenson 2008; Robbers 2009; Tewksbury 2004, 2005; Tewksbury and Lees 2006, 2007; Zevitz and Farkas 2000). Publicly identified sex offenders experience feelings of anxiety, depression, embarrassment, isolation, and shame (Burchfield and Mingus 2008; Levenson and Cotter 2005; Levenson et al. 2007; Robbers 2009).

Harassment and ostracism in the community also represent significant barriers that may prevent sex offenders from returning to society as productive, law- ERVING GOFFMAN abiding citizens (Levenson and Cotter 2005; Tewksbury 2005; Tewksbury and Lees 2006; Zevitz and Farkas 2000). Another roadblock facing these former inmates is the stigma that is associated with labeling as a sex offender, especially in regards to issues of employment, education, and community activity (Tewksbury in press; Tewksbury and Lees 2006, 2007; Uggen, Manza, and Behrens 2004; Zevitz and Farkas 2000).

Sex offenders in numerous studies report these marks of disgrace as common experiences, with feelings of vulnerability, stigmatization, and housing difficulties especially common. (Levenson and Cotter 2005; Levenson and Hern 2007; Levenson et al. 2007; Mercado et al. 2008; Tewksbury 2004, 2005, in press; Tewksbury and Lees 2006). (Tewksbury, R. , & Connor, D. P. (2012). Incarcerated sex offenders’ perceptions of family relationships: Previous experiences and future expectations. Western Criminology Review, 13(2), 25-35).

In conclusion I am in total agreement with Erving Goffman’s theory on total institutions. I reported information on four hours in the life of a mental hospital patient to show how a person’s life is affected after being admitted to a mental hospital. There are many more very interesting facts that are different at other mental hospitals. When I looked into prisons, I reported a small amount of information on the sex offender after being released from prison. His/her life will have a very definite change in society.

When people live in total institutions, their identities become limited and shaped by those with whom they live. They lose the opportunity to construct a full social identity as they lose the ability to interact with the world. (Vissing, (2011), “An Introduction to Sociology”, sec. 2. 5) Their lives are largely controlled by those in charge: their opinions and behaviors shape us. I have discussed with you how ERVING GOFFMAN socialization in two institutions; a mental hospital and a prison, affects our sociology. I also presented a brief overview of theorist, Ervin Goffman. ERVING GOFFMAN

References

  • Gilligan, (2010), “Contemporary Sociology Theory 302”, p. 1) (O’Brien, (2012), “A Day in the Life of a Mental Hospital Patient”, p. 1) http://idpm. me/2012/01/05/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-mental-hospital-patient-by-jennifer-obrien/ (Tewksbury, R. , & Connor, D. P. (2012).
  • Incarcerated sex offenders’ perceptions of family relationships: Previous experiences and future expectations. Western Criminology Review, 13(2), 25-35) http://search. proquest. com/docview/1037380124? accountid=32521.

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