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total institution A term introduced by Erving Goffman in Asylums (1961) to analyse a range of institutions in which whole blocks of people are bureaucratically processed, whilst being physically isolated from the normal round of activities, by being required to sleep, work, and play within the confines of the same institution. Prisons and mental hospitals are Goffman's key examples, but he suggests others including concentration camps, boarding schools, barracks, and monasteries. In his book, Goffman analyses the lives of inmates and custodians within such institutions, and emphasizes the inevitable bureaucratic regimentation and manipulation of residents in the interests of staff. He also identifies tendencies to resistance in the informal inmate culture—or ‘underlife’— of the institution. The term became very popular, during the 1960s, as part of a wider critique of the mechanisms and regimes of social control in advanced industrial societies. See also DECARCERATION.
institution, total See TOTAL INSTITUTION.