Erving Goffman’s Influence On The Sociology Of Education Essay

Erving Goffman, a prominent Canadian-American sociologist, is considered one of the most influential sociologists of the twentieth century. He has coined and created numerous terms and concepts that have had a great influence on the discipline of sociology and what it has become today. He focus was on the actual social environment and physical interaction of individuals that shapes their views of self. Many of his concepts were created out of his own research and observations that he would make well working in the sociology field.

After Goffman finished getting his doctorate in 1953 he went to work as a visiting scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health . Well there, he spend time at a mental institution, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D. C, where he was able to conduct fieldwork for one of his most well known books, Asylum . In Asylum, Goffman writes about the daily routine activity that is found in a mental hospital and a prison. Hospitals and prisons, along with monasteries, convents, boarding school and the military are all considered total institutions.

A total institution, a termed thought to be coined by Goffman himself, is a specific place where people who share similar circumstances are isolated from larger society for a specific period of time in and lives a very regulated lifestyle (Goffman, 1961). As Goffman describes, a total institution is “ a basic social arrangement in modern society is that the individual tends to sleep, play and work in different places, with different coparticipants under different authorities and without an over all rational plan. ” (Goffman, 1961).

What makes this a key feature of a total institution is the fact that it breaks down the barriers between work, play and sleep by managing all aspects of life in the same place. Although a person may sleep and eat in one place, it is unlikely that all of the activities that they do everyday are going to be at he same facility and under the watchful eye of an authoritative power. It is also very unlikely that a person outside of a total institution is going to be monitored by a single authority. Total institutions require that each stage of the member’s regular routine are done in the company of a larger group of other individuals.

All of these individuals are treated the in the same manner and required to do the same thing at the same time, together. For examples, it is unlikely that well you are at work you are required to eat at the same time as all of your coworkers. You are not required to set aside a specific time where you all are forced to sit down and eat together. Compare that to a jail, considered a total institution, where inmates are given an allotted period of time throughout the day, where they are required to sit down and eat, along with all of the other inmates in their unit.

This is another key feature that is unique to total institutions Finally, another key element in the structure of total institutions is that all of the day’s work and activities are on a well-kept tightly run schedule. Each activity has specific time frame each day and has already been prearranged into a full days schedule and imposed by a strict set of rules and a body of officials (Goffman, 1961). These structured activities are brought together to create a single plan that was created to fulfill the aims of that specific institution.

For example, patients in a mental hospital are required to follow a schedule throughout the day that is specifically designed by upper management. These patients follow rules that were set in place by the institution and the people that run it. By following the enforced activities and schedules that are impressed upon the patients, a layout of the institution has been created and fulfills the goals that it is meant to as a mental hospital. In this way an organization is in charge of handling a group of peoples needs. This is another key feature of a total institution.

The Bureaucratic organization is left in charge of handling groups of individual’s human needs. The individuals are placed into units, or blocks, which allows them to be supervised by workers who primary goal is surveillance over the block of people. It makes it easier for staff to make sure everyone is doing their assigned tasks, and is able to recognize if a person has failed to follow orders. This concept of two different groups, one that is being managed and one that is doing the managing, is another important feature of total institutions (Goffman, 1961).

Often times the group that is being managed, Goffman refers to them as inmates, have no access to the outside world and see the staff that is supervising them as condescending, mean, etc. The staffs often work in specific time shifts and are allowed to leave and go out. Likewise, staff often sees inmates as secretive, untruth worthy and bitter (Goffman, 1961). All of the information just listed is key features that make total institutions what they are. Without these key elements, an organization would not be considered a total institution.

An individual entering into an institution often has a concept of who they are based on the social situation that they are coming from. Upon entering a total institution, that individual is immediately stripped of all self-identifying support that they gained from the outside world. Upon arrival, an individual goes through a process that Goffman describes as a series of abasements, degradations, humiliations, and profanations of self, and they are often systematically mortified (Goffman, 1961).

The barrier that the institution puts in place between the individual and the outer world is one restriction of self that the individual looses. This can lead into role dispossession. Many institutions initial withhold visitation rights, in order to ensure that the individual has a clean break from past roles. This causes the inmate to continue to loose more sense of self because they are no longer associated with the roles that they once had outside of the total institution. There are other ways that total institutions can affect an individual’s sense of self.

A concept called admission processing, named by the staff, is when an inmate goes through a process of photographing, weighing, fingerprinting, assigned numbers, searching, storing personal possessions, undressing, disinfecting, haircutting, issuing specific uniforms, instruction of rules and room assignments (Goffman, 1961). Some call this routine programing because through this process inmates become shaped to a mold that the institution has already established. Essentially the individual simply becomes another cog in the machine.

An inmate is required to give up all personal possessions, and therefor needs some replacement of goods, which are provided by the institution. When in the outside world, an individual is able to maintain some control over how they appear to others. This can be shown through different clothes, grooming products, cosmetics, accessories etc. These items make up an “identity kit” which is used to manage ones appearance to others (Goffman, 1961). Upon arrival to a total institution, such as a jail, inmates are often stripped of their kit, which causes in individual to loose their usual presentable identity.

Even the way that an inmate may be required to address superiors, or how other inmates treat them, can have an effect on an individuals sense of self. Although there are many other ways that a total institution can affect an inmate’s sense of self, there is one specific way that is worth mentioning. On the outside, an inmate is able to maintain certain areas of self, such as immediate actions, thoughts, and personal possession. Once they become a part of a total institution, these personal self-boundaries are violated.

The inmate no longer has privacy from their surroundings and people. The inmate can be both mentally and physically exposed, not only by staff, but other inmates as well. All of these factors play a role in the inmate’s mortification of self, meaning their individual sense of self is stripped, and they are left with one identity that is often given to them by the institution. Mental patients often face similar challenges when it comes to the sense of self within a mental hospital, which is a total institution.

It is common in mental institutions that much of the information a person may try to hind about themselves is the information that is most well known (Goffman, 1961). It is this information that is used to deny the claims that individuals might make about themselves. For example, a patient may say they have no mental illness and are actual fine. In this case, a staff member may remind them that not that long ago, the patient actually believed they were god. Every time that this happens, the patient is forced to re-evaluate their story, and each time, the staff will respond in the same way.

By learning to live in conditions where exposure and fluctuation of information, as well little control that the patient has with this information is important in the socialization of the individual in that particular setting (Goffman, 1961). Having their past mistakes and encounters under continual moral evaluation make mental patients especially adapted to their environment. A patients issues and successes are too out there, and often change so much that the patient looses concern for what others think of them (Goffman, 1961).

Basically, it is not worth a patient worrying about what other patients think of them, or even try and maintain claims about oneself because their image and information is in constant flux. Patients can build themselves up or tear themselves down, without much regard. When the patient sees that they are defined by society as not having a viable self, they loose a self of self that society helped build (Goffman, 1961). In this way, the patient realizes that they can act however they want without society judging them. What does this say about society?

Does society hold people to a to high level of responsibility? As a society, do we view mental patients, or anyone within a total intuition to different level of standards? As a society, we separate ourselves from those who are found within institutions, and hold them at a different level of regard then we hold ourselves. Mental patients are viewed differently compared to that of prison inmates, but both are not held at the same level that normal society is. We identify or sense of self based on our place within society and as Goffman notes, total institution scan change the way that we view who we are.