Franchising as a Total institution

November 27, 2008

goffmanasylumsThere are different types of social arrangements or establishments.

Social establishments – institutions in the everyday sense of that term – are places such as rooms, suites of rooms, buildings, or plants in which activity of a particular kind regularly goes on. In sociology, we do not have a very apt way of classifying them. Some establishments, like Grand Central Station, are open to anyone who is decently behaved; others, like the Union League Club of New York or the laboratories at Los Alamos, are felt to be somewhat snippy about who it let in.

Goffman is interested in a specific type in this book:

…we find some that are encompassing to a degree discontinuously greater than the ones next in line. Thier encompassing or total character is symbolized by the barrier to social intercouse with the outside and to departure that is often built right into the physcial plant, such as locked doors, high walls, barbed wire, cliffs, water, forests, or moors. These establishments I am calling total institutions, and it is their general characterisitics I want to explore.

Total Institution definition:

…a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life. Prisons serve as a clear example, providing we appreciate that what is prison-like about prisons is found in institutions whose members have broken no laws.

There are 5 classifications of a total institution. They are designed to take care of people who:

  1. are harmless but unable to care for themselves (nursing homes, retirement home),
  2. can harm self and others (mental wards. psychiatric hospitals),
  3. are a threat to others (jails, concentration camps),
  4. are doing a specialized job (military, boarding school, work camps), and
  5. are retreating or training (monasteries, convents, cloisters).

Please note that some establishments are entered into voluntarily (monastery) while some are not. Goffman defines, roughly, a total institution environment as one in which you sleep, play and work in the same place.

Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, Erving Goffman, 1961.

  • It is my experience, franchise trademark systems have many similar characeristics of total institutions.

Franchising exchanges $ for passivity and distrust

October 6, 2008

As someone who has been a franchisee, worked with franchisees for 10 years and also worked in a provincial psychiatric hospital, the following Erving Goffman quote has always intrigued me:

  • Society is an insane asylum run by the inmates.

Goffman is arguably the most famous sociologist of the 20th century and his 1961 book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates promises to be fascinating.

I am just starting into it but by scanning Wikipedia and the book itself, these are the themes I will be looking for as I read it:

  • a mental-hospital patient is formed more by the institution (not the illness),
  • patient’s reactions and adjustments are similar to those of inmates in other types of institutions,
  • two classes are created and maintained within every institution (guard and captor),
  • the features of the structure is primarily to create predictable of behavior of both classes, and
  • Goffman defines a new term “total institution”.

Total Institutions are closed worlds such as prisons, army training camps, naval vessels, boarding schools, monasteries, and nursing homes where:

  • the inmates are regimented,
  • surrounded by other inmates, and
  • unable to leave the premises.

I think franchise systems have many of these prison-like characteristics and that being a franchisee is a life altering event. One franchisee described it as undergoing 3 divorces at one time.

I have noted the similarity between a franchisee and being a member of a cloistered religious order or cult.

You enter into a totally new faith-based world, a re-birth actually (foreign language, working 60-70 hours per week, long-term relationships put on hold, charismatic leadership, etc.)

Franchising powerfully changes the investor’s personality and personal identity as does every closed world. (But, dangerously, without any emotional safeguards for the initiate nor any models/myths/maps to return from their adventure.)

For me, modern franchising primarily produces two “products”:

  1. an investor who is both cognitively and emotionally incapable of defending himself (so institutionalized, so passive as to be unable to help himself, even if they had the individual economic resources to do so) and
  2. an investor who is also impossibly distrustful of everyone else (many times the most suspicious of those most able to help them); although together as a group, they could solve their collective problem.

Franchising has the power to create and then imprint learned helplessness (a psychological condition in which a human being or an animal has learned to act or behave helpless in a particular situation, even when it has the power to change its unpleasant or even harmful circumstance.).

All authorities can “brand” this helplessness because humans tend to:

  1. underestimate the influence of the situation and
  2. overestimate our individual defenses.

I’ll report back.

Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping from them: they love their servitude. Jean-Jacques Rousseau


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