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Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates Paperback – October 18, 1961


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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Asylums is an analysis of life in "total institutions"--closed worlds like prisons, army camps, boarding schools, nursing homes and mental hospitals. It focuses on the relationship between the inmate and the institution, how the setting affects the person and how the person can deal with life on the inside.

From the Inside Flap

Asylums is an analysis of life in "total institutions"--closed worlds like prisons, army camps, boarding schools, nursing homes and mental hospitals. It focuses on the relationship between the inmate and the institution, how the setting affects the person and how the person can deal with life on the inside.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 386 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books / Doubleday; 1st edition (November 10, 1961)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385000162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385000161
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Erving Goffman was Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania until his death in 1982. He is recognized as one of the world's foremost social theorists and much of his work still remains in print. Among his classic books are The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life; Interaction Ritual; Stigma; Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity; and Frame Analysis. William B. Helmreich is a professor of sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center and City College. He has written Against All Odds, The Enduring Community, Saving Children, and The Things They Say Behind Your Back all available from Transaction.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Noel Byrne on January 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
The fact that this collection of essays has been in print for almost four decades is consistent with its enduring significance. Although Goffman draws on his research in mental institutions, his writings in this book have much broader relevance. In particular, they have to do with the nature of identity, the processes whereby organizations and groupings seek to change the identities and selves of their members, and the strategies used by group members to resist those changes. At a broader level, this book is about the relationship between person and the groups of which s/he is a part. Extremely well written, and very readable with excellent use of illustrative examples, this set of essays provides unparalleled insights into and understandings of the relation between person and society.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
Summary:
The contents of this book are really far too complex to summarize, but I will do my best. There are two major points made in this text. The first is the development of the concept of the total institution. Goffman gives the following characteristics of total institutions: (1)  all aspects of life are conducted in the same place under the same authority; (2)  the individual is a member of a large cohort, all treated alike; (3)  all daily activities (over a 24-hour period) are tightly scheduled; (4) there is a sharp split between supervisors and lower participants; (5) information about the member's fate is withheld.  (p. 436) The basic examples of total institutions are mental hospitals, prisons, and military boot camps, though there are numerous other institutions that could be considered total institutions as well. Goffman doesn't leave his discussion of total institutions at a simple definition, he also describes nearly every aspect of total institutions, focusing primarily on the life of the inmates of the institutions (he also discusses the roles of the staff, but that isn't really the focus) and the effects of the institutional environment on the selves and identities of the inmates.
The second major point in the text is Goffman's criticism of total institutions, which is really limited to the very last section in the book (though you could easily see an underlying criticism throughout). Goffman's basic argument is that the total institution does several things to inmates (I should note that he is speaking specifically of mental hospitals here, though some of this could likely be applied to other institutions): First it stigmatizes the inmate, preventing them from being able to ever completely reintegrate into society afterwards.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Weeks on April 15, 2014
Format: Paperback
Reading Asylums in a shattering and moving experience. Written by Erving Goffman, the book details the dead-end domain of those unfortunate to be locked away in "the prisons of the world" aka mental institutions, prisons, psych wards, boarding schools, army boot-camps, or nursing homes. The damage he uncovers is heartbreaking. What is feels like to be a prisoner in these secret worlds is examined down to the tiniest details.

It's less of a confessional of horrific conditions but a sociology manifesto for the curious reader who likes to "go undercover" to discover why nurses in psychiatric hospitals have trouble finding employment doing anything else (hint: it has something to do with drawing blood). The book concludes with a conceptual breakdown, where with alarming speed Goffman examines psychiatry and its role in actually creating mental illness in this country. Although the writing is antiquated and the prose dusty, the facts Goffman unearths are crystal-clear. I have been fascinated with the history of asylums since coming across Face of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ria on September 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book should have had an effect. Apparently it has had none. As an ex-prisoner of an American psychiatric 'hospital' I can only say that this book brilliantly deconstructs the disabling and dehumanizing effect of such insitutions. Goffmann shows as much compassion as he does insight in this work, all the more remarkable in a work of sociology.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on September 30, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not a sociologist, a student of sociology or really, even that interested in sociology. I read about this book in David Orland's, Prisons: Houses of Darkness, where Orland often referred to Goffman's work in this book. I was not disappointed.
Goffman uses a mixture of field observation and references to literature to describe and critisize the theory and practice of the "Total Institution". As the reviewers note below, a "total institution" is an elastic concept. Goffman focuses on "strong" examples of T.I.'s: the mental hospital, prison, a 19th century man of war, monastery. Through these "strong" examples he fairly describes the concept and applies it well.
Less clear is the implications of Goffman's concept to those institutions which are either "weak" total institutions or non-total institutions with total institution tendencies. After reading this book, I saw aspects of "total" institutions in almost every institution I cared to think about: schools, churches, courts, etc.
I think it is fair to say that "All institutions dream of being total institutions." Therefore, this book has application beyond the world of "strong" total institutions. I recommend it highly.
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