Resocialization & Total Institutions
Socialization is the process through which people become members of society, both by internalizing shared norms and values and learning to perform social roles (e.g. as workers, wives or friends). While socialization was once assumed to be a process primarily associated with childhood, there is reasonable consensus that it is a continuous, lifelong process that prepares people for the transitions they will make between one phase or stage of life and another. At times people may experience resocialization. This occurs when, first, people are required to learn new norms and values associated with an unfamiliar social environment (such as when entering prison) or, second, they are required to re-learn norms and values associated with their culture or context of origin. Resocialization is often associated with total institutions, which are a distinct category of social organization characterized by bureaucratic regimentation and social isolation, as described originally by Erving Goffman in his book Asylums (1961).
Keywords Anticipatory Socialization; Desocialization; Mortification of Self; Paramount Reality; Resistance; Resocialization; Social Isolation; Socialization; Total Institution
Socialization refers to the process through which people become members of society, both by internalizing shared norms and values and learning to perform social roles (e.g. as workers, wives and friends). Socialization occurs in different settings and institutions such as the family, the education system and the workplace. While socialization was once assumed to be a process primarily associated with childhood, there is reasonable consensus that it is a continuous, lifelong process that prepares people for the transitions they will make between one phase or stage of life and another. Although there is variation in how those transitions are defined or distinguished, there is consensus that change and adaptation is an ever-present characteristic of human development.
At times people may experience resocialization. This occurs when, first, people are required to learn new norms and values associated with an unfamiliar social environment (such as when entering prison) or, second, they are required to relearn norms and values associated with their culture or context of origin. They may have, at one point, left this context and are now re-entering (such as returning to civilian life after time in prison). Resocialization is often associated with total institutions, which are a distinct category of social organization characterized by bureaucratic regimentation and social isolation, as described originally by Erving Goffman in his book Asylums (1961). Goffman identified prisons, mental hospitals and monasteries as examples of total institutions, and his insights have since been explored and expanded by a number of studies.
The Socialization Process
Much of the insight into socialization is grounded in a symbolic interactionist tradition to the study of social life. This approach emphasizes that social life largely depends on a shared sense of reality that defines how to act in particular social situations and how to interact with others in ways that make sense and contribute to social order. In the symbolic interactionist approach, social reality is not external to the individual, but is built up, or constructed, through interaction (e.g. gestures, conversations, symbols). Reality is therefore unstable, though dynamic; what is defined as real could shift at any moment and in this framework, successful interaction with others depends on the importance of the actor's ability to interpret the social world (Ritzer, 1992).
Because socialization is ongoing throughout the life course, researchers have identified different forms of socialization. First, primary association occurs within institutions such as the family, schools and the media. Such socialization can be both formal (through explicit rules) and informal (via coded messages and the "hidden curriculum" in which the values associated with a particular culture, such as capitalism, are embedded in the structure and organization of education). Second, anticipatory socialization occurs when people take on the norms and values of a role they desire; such as when those learning a particular occupation (e.g. nursing) take on the role-set (the professional identity of nurses) they seek to occupy (Lurie, 1981). Similarly, the high school student who begins wearing college student-type clothes once he has been accepted to a university is engaging in anticipatory socialization (Henslin, 2004). Third, resocialization occurs when people learn a new set of behaviors, practices and attitudes associated with a new context (Henslin, 2004). This form of resocialization could be associated with entering college, or even getting married.
These forms of resocialization are largely informal and voluntary. Resocialization can also be formal, and involuntary, and in such cases is mostly associated with institutional settings, such as the workplace, or total institutions.
The concept of total institution was developed by the sociologist Erving Goffman as a result of research he conducted at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C. while he was a visiting scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The research was published as a book, Asylums in 1961. The hospital was a federal mental institution with more than 7000 patients and Goffman viewed it as a place that encompassed the whole of the lives of its inmates. Accordingly, he described a total institution as a specific type of place where:
…a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from wider society for an appreciable amount of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life (Goffman, 1961, p. xiii).
Goffman identified several characteristics of total institutions and argued that they control all aspects of the daily lives of inmates, subject their residents to standardized activities, and apply formal rules and rigid scheduling to all activities.
In the total institution, inmates are separated from the outside world physically. For instance, total institutions are, in Goffman's definition, built environments that are segregated from everyday life through spatial barriers such as barbed wire and walls and interaction between inmates and people from the "outside" is physically prevented through devices such as locks and barred windows. Sutton's (2003) study of missions and reserves in Australia, using photographs as evidence, shows how the spatial and physical design of such missions were similar to 19th century workhouses, prisons, concentration camps and mental institutions. These missions removed indigenous people from public Australian life and played a role in the colonial control of indigenous peoples by breaking up Aboriginal families. Moreover, the experience of separation and control within the missions made it difficult for inmates to adjust to life outside and contributed to emotional disorders, an inability to live with others and make friends and increased the likelihood of illnesses such as diabetes and heart conditions (Sutton, 2003).
Total institutions also socially separate inmates from the outside world, though there are points of potential contamination that can threaten this separation. For instance, messy quarters can remind the inmate of the world beyond the institution and when an inmate loses control over who is observing her in the institution, or who knows about her past, she is contaminated by a forced relationship to these others. Other interpersonal contaminations or forced relationships include rape, sexual assault, or when the inmate's possessions are handled by officials or other inmates. Thus, for Goffman, a key characteristic of the total institution is that there is always a tension between the institution and the outside world and this tension is used "as strategic leverage in the management of men" (Goffman, 1961, p. 13).
The total institution controls the minute details of the inmate's life, and staff expect the inmates to be obedient to them. Inmates occupy a routinized lifestyle where meals, recreation, work and bedtimes are all tightly scheduled and uniforms may be required (such as in prisons, boarding schools or the military). Indeed, in total institutions, people are processed as things or objects whereas, in contrast, on the "outside," people are typically identified through personal characteristics and qualities (Sparks, Bottoms & Hay, 1996). These detailed rules and repetitive routines enable the institution to establish control and authority over the lives of inmates and ensure a power differential between those in charge and subordinates.
Thus, a key goal of resocialization within...
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