Asylums (book)

Asylums (book)

"Asylums: Essays on the Condition of the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates" is a 1961 collection of four essays written by sociologist Erving Goffman. Based on his participant observation field work (he was employed as a physical therapist's assistant under a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health at a mental institution in Washington, D.C.), the book details Goffman's theory of the "total institution" (principally in the example he gives, as the title of the book indicates, mental institutions) and the process by which it takes efforts to maintain predictable and regular behavior on the part of both "guard" and "captor," suggesting that many of the features of such institutions serve the ritual function of ensuring that both classes of people know their function and social role, in other words of "institutionalising" them.

The essays also examine ways in which individual persons may both adapt to this social environment and find loopholes and advantages in the system as part of an effort to make it conform to their own needs. The book concludes that adjusting the inmates to their role has at least as much importance as "curing" them. In the essay "Notes on the Tinkering Trades," Goffman concluded that the "medicalization" of mental illness and the various treament modalities are offshoots of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution and that the so-called "medical model" for treating patients was a variation on the way trades- and craftsmen of the late 1800s repaired clocks and other mechanical objects: in the confines of a shop or store, contents and routine of which remained a mystery to the customer.

ee also

*Stanford prison experiment


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