Erving Goffman

When was Asylums by Goffman published?
Goffman's background
-University of Chicago, leading sociology program in the US, used the city as its laboratory; much of it was focused on urban social problems (gangs, mental illness, prostitution-- people who were deviant from social norms); harder to study wealthy people due to boundaries they put up
-Didn't have a lot of social graces
-Married wealthy; got a job at NIMH.
Writing Asylums
Began to work for St. Elizabeth's mental hospital and pretended to be a basketball coach; only the superintendent knew who he was
-his wife was actually a patient there
-Invented the term "total institution" based on his time in a mental hospital
-Trained as a psychoanalyst
-Austrian Jew; 1939 was sent to a concentration camp
-Rockefellar foundation made some efforts to pay ransom to Nazis for scientists
-He managed to get to America and establish himself
-Wrote about how people behave in extreme circumstances (such as what we now call Stockholm Syndrome)
-he blamed children's parents who had autism and took them away from them as one of his treatments
What are examples of total institutions according to Goffman?
Asylums, boarding schools, military boot camps or academies, concentration camps, convents, monasteries
What was Goffman's first argument?
Mental hospitals aren't unique or distinctive but resemble other places; certain types of institutions inevitably produce certain types of outcomes
What connects all of these total institutions?
Loss of autonomy, loss of privacy/ability to move in different social settings/reconstitute our identities
Presentation of Self
We present ourselves differently based on who we are interacting with. We all carry props/identity kits that tell about us as a person (cell phone, watches, bags, etc.)
-In total institutions, all these things are taken away
Asylums, some main points
-Nothing is hidden, everything is observable; strip away much of what protects individual sense of self/identity
-Autonomy because choice produces uncertainty
-This ends up undermining the skills you actually need to be able to have in the outside world
-stuff gets taken away, ceremonial entry into this
(hair cut off, clothes and stuff taken away and you are given a uniform)
-take group showers, examined in front of others
-Some of the pathology in mental hospitals is an attempt to reclaim some form of identity
-breaks people down to fit into the institution but will not be well-suited for the outside world
-Basically saying not to spend more money on these institutions because based on what they are, total institutions, no amount of money can save them
Goffman's last chapter
-Mental hospitals are bound to have negative effects on people
-However they are seen in society to be places as therapeutic
-Doctors want to see themselves as therapists and in reality they are doing nothing of the kind
-So much energy is spent on PR, maintaining a good image; result of what is really going on
Critiques of Goffman's work
-Pays no attention to what it is that causes people to enter the mental hospital (other than a few paragraphs about betrayal by friends/family, and that it is just because they are unlucky that they end up there)
-Acts as if these large mental institutions are timeless, doesn't touch on the history
The Insanity of Place
1971 published by Goffman; written after his wife killed herself; talks about how destructive mental illness is not just to the person suffering but to those all around them
-mental illness is real; people consumed by it may not be able to function adequately in normal social settings