Resocialization in Total Institutions

Institutions in which individuals undergo extreme resocialization, uprooting a large amount of the “ways of being” learned in primary socialization, are considered total institutions. Erving Goffman uses the term “total institution” to refer to mental institutions as a place where individuals may be easily controlled because they are closed off from others, a place where “all aspects of life are conducted under a single authority in the company of a batch of others, all of whom are treated alike”. Extending beyond brick and mortar buildings, we can see that anywhere where these characteristics of control and exclusion are practiced could be considered a total institution.

Resocialization, the type most likely to occur among victims of trafficking, takes place outside the original family. The behaviors and attitudes learned in primary socialization are often overturned. During primary socialization, for example, children may learn some form of modesty, undressing and using the restroom in private or only around close family members. With this behavior comes a person’s belief in their right to privacy. Resocialization in total institutions such as prisons or the military contradicts this basic behavior by demanding individuals perform such behaviors as undress publicly in front of strangers or use a public toilet. Over time these behaviors may cause a person to question their right to basic privacy, as well as their sense of personal autonomy, reshaping the way an individual views him or herself. One tenet of microsociological theory is that changes in conceptions of the self will impact future behavior and interactions with others. An individual who comes to view him or herself as less deserving of privacy and autonomy will behave differently in future interactions than someone with a self-concept rooted in independence.

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