Erving Goffman (1922-1982)

By Source: [1], Fair use,
By Source: [1], Fair use,

Some have referred to Erving Goffman (11 June 1922 – 19 November 1982) as "the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century." Erving Goffman was a sociologist, social psychologist, and author who was born in Canada.  He was ranked sixth among authors of works in the humanities and social sciences in The Times Higher Education Guide of 2007, ahead of Jürgen Habermas and behind Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Anthony Giddens.

Goffman published several books that earned him a place in sociology

It may sound unusual to say that nursing homes, jails, and military camps are extremely similar. But Erving Goffman , who referred to them as whole institutions, stated just that in the early 1960s. Goffman established himself in sociology with the publication of various volumes. His 1961 publication Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates is his most significant contribution in the field of social work. It gained popularity fast and was translated into other languages. The idea of comprehensive institutions serves as the basis for the main theme. The fact that they profoundly affect citizens' lives unites a number of groups that initially appear to be extremely different from one another.

We often plan our leisure activities, shop, work, and sleep in separate places. This is not the situation in entire facilities, where residents live in the same cramped space 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Care facilities, jails, psychiatric facilities, military camps, and convents are a few examples. These entire institutions frequently, but not always, have physical barriers, like as high walls or barbed wire, separating them from the outside world. There is a definite line between residents and personnel in each facility as a whole. The latter group does not utilize the entire university because they typically leave after business hours.

Erving Goffman went undercover for a year in one of the total institutions, posing as the assistant of the sports director

Goffman was especially interested in discussing how residents interacted with these comprehensive institutions. He spent a year as an undercover agent in one of the complete institutes, pretending to be the sports director's assistant. He avoided interacting with employees as much as he could, and only those in authority within the company are aware of his true position as a researcher. The study was acknowledged as a superb instance of qualitative research. Goffman recounts how the entire institution disciplines (new) residents to adhere to the rhythm and regulations of the home based on what he saw throughout this year. He refers to this process as mortification, in which the institution as a whole gradually strips away and redefines the civilian identity and connections to the outside world. Anyone who has spent time in a hospital will be familiar with the experience: eating, washing, and waking up all take place in accordance with the pattern established by medical staff, leaving little to no opportunity for personal preferences.

Goffman`s analysis gained popularity through his publications & the movie One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

In addition to his works, Goffman's analysis became well-known because to the Ken Kesey-based film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Randle McMurphy, a patient at a mental health facility, is portrayed by Jack Nicholson. He protests against the ethos of entire institutions after being admitted to a mental hospital and tries to involve his fellow patients in his insurrection. One of the most villainous characters in movie history is arguably Nurse Ratched. The viewer's dislike of her perfectly captures the widespread dislike of all social institutions that has existed since the 1960s (although perhaps surprisingly, not against total institutions in the field of justice). 

A significant wave of deinstitutionalization was caused by Goffman's work, Jack Nicholson's involvement, other movements like Italian anti-psychiatry, and other factors. Care in (and when possible by) the community and shorter-term care have replaced large-scale care institutions and long-term care. The argument that people are discharged without adequate care, leading to higher levels of criminality and homelessness, was and is another criticism of deinstitutionalization.


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