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


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Frequently Bought Together

Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates + Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity + The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 386 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books / Doubleday; 1st edition (October 18, 1961)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385000162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385000161
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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

In this sense, this book is comprehensive and very, very insightful.
A Customer
From the point of view of opposition to psychiatry, the most outstanding feature of Asylums may in fact be that Goffman makes such comparisons.
Mira de Vries
It made me question the text in which it was cited originally though.
D. Weaver

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 58 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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44 of 48 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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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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
I based a sociological study and wrote a very well received paper - A Study of an English Open Prison as a 'Total Institution' - as part of my studies in 1994, in the form of a reappraisal of the books main points measured against covert observational findings. 'Asylums' was recommended to me and proved invaluable in understanding behavioural data from a symbolic interaction theoretical perspective. I was impressed with the work then and remain so now - to the extent that I am frequently drawn back to it still. It was still relevant at that time and it has lost none of that relevance. I heartily commend it!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
As a Nurse Lecturer I recommend this book to all my mental health students. I first read it as a first year trainee psychiatric nurse and it saved my career. There I was sitting in a care of the elderly ward in a mental hospital thinking "what the (*&^ is going on here!?", ready to pack it in, and then I started to read this book. As I progressed through the book it all began to make sense and Goffman became my hero! What a man, what a researcher, what a writer. His theory is punctuated here and there with anecdotes and as such his writing is highly accessible. Fortunately, the world I experienced as a student and that Goffman wrote of is dying, but its vestiges linger and this book is still useful today. This book will one day become a historical account, but will always stand a a testimony to the need for and effectiveness of covert qualitative research.
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