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Asylums : Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates.

4.12  ·  Rating Details  ·  719 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
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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Published 1968 by Pelican Books (first published 1961)
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Just in passing - the edition I read had a much better cover, the black and white photograph of a woman's hands covering her face with a cigarette between her fingers pretty much summed up my feelings about this book.

There is a sentence in Moab is My Wash Pot where Stephen Fry, at least, I’m nearly positive he’s not quoting someone else, says that it is easier for someone who has been to a public boarding school to be in prison than it is for anybody else in society. Not the most endearing adver
Aug 22, 2007 Cat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'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" ex
Mar 08, 2008 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who run institutions. teachers.
Recommended to Rob by: john taylor gatto
one of the most subtle, restrained, ferocious diatribes i have ever read. you can feel the fire roiling deep underneath the text, piercing the surface in quick flashes. should be required reading for all schoolteachers.

four long essays stemming from a year (1955-56) Goffman spent observing the daily operation of a huge (7000 inmates!) mental hospital. they were published separately, and in fact the first two are skippable - interesting at moments, but suffering from a great weight of psychobabbl
Read for school. I especially found the essay concerning the life inside prisons to be of interest, although some things certainly were hard to read (especially concerning shaming and degrading actions). Some parts of the book are definitely outdated but a lot of the general points are still relevant.
Sary Fairchild
It was easier to read this book if I kept reminding myself that it was written in the 1950's. Psychiatric hospitals are nothing like this nowadays. But I appreciate they used to be different. Anyhow, I don't like that Goffman made some jabs at psychiatric nurses, implying that they are the nurses who didn't know how to draw blood (apparently, this is all that nurses do...?) and so couldn't get a job anywhere else. I think this guy needs to spend a day as a psychiatric nurse and see if he changes ...more
Aug 27, 2013 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An astute set of essays on the ways people find to maintain a self within an institution whose purpose is to control a person's every activity. Full of glancing observations of the strange ways people seek status, or worry about losing it, for example this passage about a customer of a service business such as a repair shop: "The client thinks, 'Is this server really competent? Is he acting in my own interests? Is he overcharging? Is he discreet? Is he secretly contemptuous of me because of the ...more
Okay, I got his idea about social roles and identity through organizational participation. I was just so surprised that in the 1960s, monastery could be treated more or less as parallels to institutions such as mental hospitals and even prisons as Goffman did not have trouble of quoting biographical accounts of monks/nuns and prisoners simultaneously. Were the monks and nuns the same sort of "inmate" as the "patients" he discussed at length (well, of course, the sort of long-term psychiatric hos ...more
Bill H.
Dec 21, 2011 Bill H. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was assigned for a college course called "Alienation and Mental Illness". An interesting look at how the conditions and treatment of in patient psychiatric hospitals strip one of their sense of self to the extent that the appearance of illness is greatly enhanced.
Sep 19, 2008 Tara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-work
I finally finished this book. The essays in the book can be read separately or all together. They each can stand alone and say a lot about the mental illness system and psychiatry.

Goffman is great. I have known about this book for years, and I fianlly got around to reading it. After I read Stigma, I wanted to read more Goffman.

Asylums is a book of Essays based upon Goffman's sociological work in total institutions, particularly mental hospitals. The essay on the characteristics of total institut
Mar 31, 2010 Magnus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Goffmann sets out to do a Micro-interactive analysis of what he describes as one of the primary "total institutions" of modern times; the Asylum. The Asylum takes us trough the different perspectives o the patients, the staff, and therapists as they interact in these tightly structured environments, shaming all that presupposes that micro-interactionist`s cannot deal with macro-structures of social life.

A pleasant read, especially the last chapter on the different, non-converging, interests tha
Apr 17, 2015 Marie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Considered a seminal work on the subject and an influence in the deinstitutionalization of America’s mentally ill.
The first ‘essay’ of the four that make up the book was the hardest to get through, because the author tries to define ‘total institutions’ as a class, using a wide range of examples from mental hospitals to concentration camps and prisons and monestaries and naval vessels. The other three essays deal almost exclusively with mental hospitals and felt stronger for it, particularly whe
Scott Sheaffer
Apr 13, 2010 Scott Sheaffer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this for a history class while in college. I was in a religious scholarship program that functioned as a cult. The 12 students receiving the scholarship were not allowed to attend any social events outside the group and were more or less prevented from interfacing with society outside the "program". As far as I could see there was no relevance between this book and the history we were studying. It's possible that the professor suggest I (and I alone) report on this book to help me to gain ...more
Jeff Keehr
I read this in 1979 and I have no memory of it but I must have enjoyed it because i went on to read The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life a year later.
Nov 18, 2008 Daniela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here Goffman defines the concept of a "total institution" -- a place where all activities are done in the same place, carried out around others, tightly scheduled, and done according to a plan. The places can be as distinct as nursing homes, elite boarding schools, and asylums. The major players are the inmates and the staff. He argues that the self is take from the individual in a total institution. The inmates use subversive behavior, situational withdrawal, colonization, and conversion to cop ...more
Feb 27, 2013 Starleigh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most useful book that I read during my entire university education!

Reading this book helped me see everyday institutional interactions in a whole new way and helped me understand power and authority in modern society.

Celia Haig Brown referenced this book when writing "Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School."

I think that this book would be useful for anyone who want to understand social control, oppression, and power in society.
Jul 21, 2015 Sal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic
The description of the asylum as an institution is dated-- we don't call them asylums much nowadays, though I did hear 'nuthouse' yesterday. Still, the connections that Goffman makes between the way life is organized in the mental institution and the way that the patients react to this is really eye-opening. If you've been a patient, work in such a place, or are a social scientist interested in the way institutions affect their members, this will be worthwhile.
Sep 14, 2012 Nadine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very important book. It critically examines how the labels we give to people can result in self fulfilling prophecies. The book is especially pertinent when it comes to the treatment of people from marginalized groups such as people from lower socioeconomic classes, racial/ethnic minorities, people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and others who are considered to be "deviant".
Apr 03, 2008 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic
Probably the most insightful thing I've read on mental hospitals. Based on extensive participant observation at a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., Goffman tries to describe the 'moral career' of the mental patient, which articulates the process all patients experience, often painfully, as their old "self" is problematized and then systematically stripped away.

Oct 28, 2007 Elsie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good description of what goes on in the asylum, and makes the necessary claim that "the asylum" is "the total institution" (like the prison, boarding school, cloister). Good description of HOW these institutions exist. But WHY do they exist? (A much more important question.) He should have waited a year and read Foucault.
Aug 08, 2008 Masha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an honest and starteling look at what its like for the individuals that live in a totally controlled environment. It shows the similarities between groups of people one would never compare such as mental patients and boarding school students and discusses the effects of a total institution on their psyche.
Anna Nowinski
Interesting insight into the world of total institutions and specifically the socialization of mental patients. Kind of disorienting to read if you identify as having some kind of mental illness.
Feb 13, 2008 Graham rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hate reactionary field observation sociology with a passion, but this is a handy book to read just in case you end up in one of these places.
Sep 07, 2007 Tara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This one blew my mind as much as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fictional story based on the state of the mental health residential system did.
(I read only the first of the four essays in the book, actually -- the essay on the characteristics of total institutions.)
Sep 25, 2012 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, it was for class. But it was still pretty interesting. And depressing.

Jun 28, 2007 Jaime rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's amazing how what he's written about continues to be relevant to this very day.
Jul 11, 2011 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this is probably my favorite sociological book EVER!
Mar 22, 2011 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Still thoughtful and useful, still really good.
Nina at Death Books and Tea
Interesting, but hard to read.
Nov 16, 2010 Elvira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I want to read it!
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Erving Goffman (June 11, 1922 – November 19, 1982) was a Canadian-born sociologist and writer.

Considered "the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century" (Fine, Manning, and Smith 2000:ix), as a subjective analyst, Goffman's greatest contribution to social theory is his study of symbolic interaction in the form of dramaturgical analysis that began with his 1959 book The Present
More about Erving Goffman...

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“Here I want to stress that perception of losing one’s mind is based on culturally derived and socially ingrained stereotypes as to the significance of symptoms such as hearing voices, losing temporal and spatial orientation, and sensing that one is being followed, and that many of the most spectacular and convincing of these symptoms in some instances psychiatrically signify merely a temporary emotional upset in a stressful situation, however terrifying to the person at the time. Similarly, the anxiety consequent upon this perception of oneself, and the strategies devised to reduce this anxiety, are not a product of abnormal psychology, but would be exhibited by any person socialized into our culture who came to conceive of himself as someone losing his mind.” 5 likes
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