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A total institution is defined by Goffman as 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. Prisons serve as a clear example, providing we appreciate that what is prison-like about prisons is found in institutions whose members have broken no laws. This volume deals with total institutions in general and, mental hospitals, in particular. The main focus is, on the world of the inmate, not the world of the staff. A chief concern is to develop a sociological version of the structure of the self.
Each of the essays in this book were intended to focus on the same issue—the inmate's situation in an institutional context. Each chapter approaches the central issue from a different vantage point, each introduction drawing upon a different source in sociology and having little direct relation to the other chapters.
This method of presenting material may be irksome, but it allows the reader to pursue the main theme of each paper analytically and comparatively past the point that would be allowable in chapters of an integrated book. If sociological concepts are to be treated with affection, each must be traced back to where it best applies, followed from there wherever it seems to lead, and pressed to disclose the rest of its family.