total institution

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total institution


total organization

any social organization (including prisons, monasteries, long-stay hospitals, boarding schools, and ships on long voyages) in which the members are required to live out their lives in isolation from wider society (see GOFFMAN, 1961). In contrast with ‘normal’ social life, in which people live in their own homes and usually work, sleep, eat and engage in leisure activities in a number of different locations, it is characteristic of total organizations that social action is confined to a single location. In these organizations there is no possibility of any complete escape from the administrative rules or values which prevail.

Research has concentrated on the sociological and social psychological consequences (e.g. INSTITUTIONALIZATION) that can arise from this form of life, and which exist for those in superordinate as well as subordinate positions. As suggested by Goffman, various ‘mortifications of the self (e.g. removal of personal possessions), may occur in total institutions (e.g. asylums or prisons), resulting in a reconstruction of the person to fit with the demands of the organization to an extent which could never be achieved in more open social contexts. This reconstruction, however, is never complete. There always remains scope for ‘inmate culture’ to exert some control over the formal organizational structure of a total organization.

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