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:
- are harmless but unable to care for themselves (nursing homes, retirement home),
- can harm self and others (mental wards. psychiatric hospitals),
- are a threat to others (jails, concentration camps),
- are doing a specialized job (military, boarding school, work camps), and
- 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.