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Resocialization and Total Institutions

Resocialization and Total Institutions

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize the process of resocialization, and how it relates to total institutions.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. Thank you for joining me. In this lesson, we're going to talk about what we call total institutions and this idea of re-socialization that occurs within total institutions. It's a little bit of a different take on this idea of socialization. We're going to look at how re-socialization occurs. That's where we want to eradicate all of the past behaviors, ideas, thoughts, sense of self that you have, for whatever reason, and re-socialize you to become something new, different, something more amenable to society. Because re-socialization is typically done in institutions, such as prison, mental hospitals, boarding schools, things like that, boot camps.

So now let's turn to this idea of a total institution to get a picture of how re-socialization within them occurs. I've got here on the board some examples of total institutions. The military, and boot camps, mental hospitals, prisons, jails, religious boarding schools, places like this. A total institution is something that's set apart from the rest of society and in which individuals are controlled, monitored, and ideally, shaped, by some administrative staff.

Think about these places, these total institutions. They're fascinating little sociological studies. There are formal rules in these places that dictate all aspects of life and everything is supervised. Inmates and enlistees are always under the gaze of the panopticon, of their superiors, and they're told the appropriate time to eat, the appropriate time to sleep, when to go to the bathroom, when to shower, when to sleep, all of this stuff. Every function, every bodily function that you take for granted is rule bound and monitored. Think about what that would do to your psychology. That's part of this idea of re-socialization.

In these places, then, life is completely standardized. Given we're all subject to the same rules, we all have the same standard experience. When you get into jail or when you join the military and get to boot camp, you're stripped, given a uniform, the same standard uniform, sometimes you're even shaved, like in the military, when they shave your hair. You wear the standard uniform and it doesn't matter if you were out there, it doesn't matter if you're a lawyer or if you're a homeless person, because in here, buddy, we all operate by the same rules. All that outside status stuff is gone.

The goal of this total institution, the first goal is to just strip you of your former self, your former identity. Because what they want to do with re-socialization is to give you a new way to look at the world, and a new identity. And that only comes by first breaking you down, getting rid of all that stuff that made you you in the outside world. Because in here, you're going to live by our rules.

So in here, in the military, say, you're no longer Josh from Wyoming, or you're no longer Mallory from Nevada. You're a maggot or whatever name we want to give you. You're not unique. You're not special. That's the first step of re-socialization, to break down the identity and to fashion a new one. And once this is done, once that initial identity is broken down, you can be built back up with subtle little rewards that encourage conformity to the authority in the total institution.

So something as simple as making a phone call to your boyfriend or girlfriend, something you might take for granted is an immense pleasure inside of this cold, harsh environment of the total institution. So when the authority is so kind and gives you that phone call, you're going to cherish it. And you're going to conform because you want another phone call. So after you're broken down, you learn to play by these little carrot stick rewards to then conform and create your new way to be, your new identity, you're re-socialization, or the fundamental change that occurs in the controlled environment.

And it works. It really works. I mean, think about this profound psychological distress that an inmate goes through when this happens to them. This erase of self, this erasure of self. So I hope you've enjoyed learning about re-socialization occurring in total institutions. I could talk about this stuff all day. It's fascinating but we got to keep it to about four or five minutes. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know

The attempt to fundamentally change a person's, typically and inmate's or an enlistee's, ingrained personality by carefully controlling the environment.

Total Institution

An institution set apart from the rest of society in which individuals are controlled, monitored, and shaped by an administrative staff.