Sociology Index


Total institution is social institution which encompasses the individual, cutting them off from significant social interaction outside its bounds. Dying in a total institution has become a common practice in the dehumanized world we live in. The most common total institution in the modern globalized world is the old-age home where we dump aged parents without any mercy. A total institution is a place where similarly situated people together live an enclosed kind of life, cut off from the mainstream. These institutions are frequently involved in the process of resocialization whereby individuals are detached from their previous sense of identity and re-shaped to accept and absorb new values and behavior. Examples include religious orders, prisons and army training camps.

Paul Michel Foucault discussed total institutions in the language of complete and austere institutions - Foucault, Michel, Discipline & punish. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. (1995) p. 231. Erving Goffman can be credited with popularizing the term 'total institution' through "On the Characteristics of Total Institutions" presented in April 1957 at the Walter Reed Institute's Symposium on Preventive and Social Psychiatry.

Erving Goffman divided 'total institution' into five types:

Total institutions established to care for people felt to be both harmless and incapable, like orphanages and nursing homes.

Total institutions established to care of people felt to be incapable of looking after themselves and a threat to the community, like mental hospitals and sanitariums.

Total institutions created to protect the community against what are felt to be intentional dangers to it, like P.O.W. camp, penitentiary, and jail.

Total institutions purportedly established and justified for specific purpose, like boarding schools and army barracks.

Total institutions like training stations for the religious institutions like convents and monasteries.