Total Institutions and Slavery

(author unknown)




"A place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time together, lead an
enclosed, formally administered round of life.” (Goffman)

(1) those established to care for persons felt to be both incapable and harmless (e.g., elderly homes); (2) those to care for persons felt to be incapable but unintended threats to the community (e.g., mental hospital); (3) those established to protect the community against those who are intended threats to its welfare (e.g., jails, POW camps, concentration campus); (4) those established to pursue some worklike and instrumental task (e.g., army barracks, ships)


  1. All aspects of life are conducted in same place and under same single authority
  2. Carefully structured activities
  3. Explicit formal rulings govern structured activities
  4. Activities serve ultimate goal (economic profit; control over men/women)
  5. Strict demarcation of roles; hierarchical
  6. Social mobility between the two strata (inmate, “staff”) is grossly restricted
  7. Even TALK across the boundaries may be conducted in special tone of voice such that inmates’ verbal behavior reflects their place in system of dominance
  8. Just as talk across boundaries is restricted, so, too, is passage of information – especially about staff’s plans for inmates.
  9. Little choice in this total institution
  10. In some institutions, there is a kind of slavery with inmate’ full time placed at convenience of staff; here inmates’ sense of self and sense of possession can become contaminated
  11. Total Institutions are incompatible with family; hard to maintain; constraints on family formations.

Inmate World within Total Institution

  1. Typical for inmates to come with a “presenting culture” derived from a “home world” And this is the point made by Atiba in noting that perhaps section on African Diaspora; continuities is too far in the lecture; important to remember where descendents came from.  Diverse; diversity of tongues; cultures
  2. Integration into total institution may entail a kind of “disculturation” – an “Untraining” if you will – which makes it difficult for person to adjust to his old way of life (disconnect of African Americans with African homelands)
  3. Can create tensions between total Institution and homeworld; some losses are irrevocable (Africanisms in American culture versus??)
  4. Admission to T.I.  entail “trimming” or “Programming” – because new arrival [allows himself] to be shaped and coded into an object that can be fed into administrative machinery of establishment  (change in clothing, hair style, etc.).
  5. May involve “obedience tests” at outset
  6. Possessions are taken; and with that one’s sense of self
  7. Stripped of “usual” appearance
  8. May suffer personal self defacement; stripped of one’s “identity kit”
  9. Certain movements, postures, and stances will convey lowly images of the individual
  10. Physical stance – required to hold body in humiliating pose; perform verbal acts of deference (e.g., saying “sir”, begging, humbly asking for little things like permission to drink water)

Contaminating Exposures

Contaminative exposure:  All encompassing nature of institution reinforce system – VISITORS/outsiders witness them in this position “contaminative exposure”



Lester: to be a slave; the Plantation

1.    To be a human being under conditions in which that humanity was denied
2.  Slavery seen as benefit to slaves (dumb, brute animals, whose sole attributes were working, singing, and dancing)
3.  Since they were like children, slavery benefited them