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Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates.

by Erving
Goffman
Review by: William Caudill
American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 68, No. 3, Studies on Formal Organization (Nov., 1962),
pp. 366-369
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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366

THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY

political meetings, civic service, etc. As time


devoted to work (in the economic sense) declines, time devoted to such obligations may
increase to the point where one has no more
"free" time than before. (2) The increased
time given to leisure seems to increase rather
than decrease the time spent at home, and the
home becomes a repository of leisure-use
things. (3) Although there is evidence that
workers have little ego involvement in their
jobs, this is not necessarily cause for alarm.
Rather, the worker simply sells his time and
skill in a business-like manner, ceasing to
think about it after hours. "He is not bored
with his job; he has come to terms with it."
This is eminently sensible and rational. (4)
The notion that people are helpless in the face
of the great wave of leisure now sweeping
over them is exaggerated if not false. Rather,
man's cultural level (compared to 1850) has
risen, and his inventiveness in his work will
surely be applied to his leisure. These conclusions do not form the subject of particular
sections of the book; they are touched upon
in several places and may be said to emerge
from the book as a whole.
Two valuable features of the book stand
out. It is probably the most thorough coverage of the literature on leisure study, particularly the European materials, now available.
Again and again one is impressed with the
great volume of research going on in Europe,
much of which, unfortunately, cannot be read
by "English-only" sociologists. Nor is the defense that "the really good stuff will be translated" satisfactory, for most of it is not that
good: It is simply as good as most American
research and therefore no more likely to be
translated. The coverage seems equally good
for American materials, with the surprising
omission of the work of Weiss and Morse.
The other especially valuable feature of the
book is the many "essays." The book is full
of insights which could in their own right
form the subjects of research or even of
books. For example, Anderson points out that
we owe the increase in leisure to the Protestant ethic, which made intense concentration
on work a virtue. Yet this very gift becomes
a "problem" for one's success in work incapacitates one for enjoying the free time.
Hence it is not really free but must be used to
improve one's ability to work even more successfully. With reference to the complaint
that people are becoming too passive in their

leisure, Anderson wonders whether "to live in


a civilization so intensively stimulating as ours
one [may] need . e . to acquire a degree of
passivity or immunity." In his discussion of
leisure among the aged, he reminds us that
the use of time is a problem only among those
without wealth and power. Leaders in many of
the most important activities are usually old:
for example, top diplomats, top church leaders, and top leaders in women's organization,
trade unions, large corporations, and universities. This is not a new idea, but it deserves
greater attention. Perhaps the major problems
of the aged are not leisure problems, but
those of insufficient wealth and power.
Anderson's coverage of the main issues in
the study of leisure is as wide as his coverage
of the literature. But he omits, as do most
students of leisure, a discussion of the "leisure workers"-the operator of the bowling
alley, the golf pro, the theater usher, and, of
course, the actor. They work so that others
may play, and often their work is the play of
others. The occupational community that Lipset, Trow, and Coleman found among printers
is certainly more widespread.
The book is well written and combines intensive examination of the research and a judicious explication of the findings from it. At
the same time, the wide scope and originality
of this volume make it required reading for
students of work and leisure.
EDWARDGROSS

University of Minnesota

Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of


Mental Patients and Other Inmates. By
ERVINGGOFFMAN("Anchor Book"). Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1961. Pp.
xiv+386. $1.45.
Sociologists scarcely need an introduction
to these often brilliant and always provocative essays. The book begins with a reprinting
(from Cressey's The Prison, 1961) of the
longer version of Goffman's classic treatment
of the characteristics of total institutions. The
focus then narrows more specifically on the
patient, first in terms of his moral career (reprinted from Psychiatry, XXII [1959], 12342), and next on his ways of making out in
the underlife of the hospital. The final essay
considers the lack of appropriateness of the

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BOOK REVIEWS
medical-service model for characterizing the
relation of professional psychiatric staff and
patients within the context of the mental hospital. The book as a whole provides a full
treatment of Goffman's analysis of the mental hospital and of his use of it as one illustrative case in the development of the concept of total institutions and of a set of ideas
concerning the structure of the self.
Goffman gathered the material for his essays
during a year of observational study at St.
Elizabeths Hospital. He self-consciously restricted the bulk of his observations to patients, and he says: "To describe the patient's
situation faithfully is necessarily to present
a partisan view" (pp. ix-x). The reader is
thereby warned that the description of life in
the hospital is through the patient's eyes as
seen by Goffman, but the analytical and theoretical ideas arising from the descriptive materials are adequately shorn of this limitation
on perspective and stand clear by themselves.
Perhaps in the future the other role groups in
the hospital will be found by their Goffman.
Two central themes run throughout the
book-the concept of total institutions and
the structure of the self. Of these two, the
presentation of total institutions is clearer,
while the ideas about the self seem to me to
be ambiguous and in need of further clarification.
Goffman defines a total institution 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" (p. xiii). In
addition to mental hospitals, examples of total
institutions are prisons, army barracks, ships,
boarding schools, and monasteries.
The process by which an individual comes
to enter a total institution is discussed by
Goffman for mental hospitals in his second essay under the concept of career contingencies.
The concept is apt because, as Goffman points
out, "in the degree that the 'mentally ill' outside hospitals numerically approach or surpass those inside hospitals, one could say that
mental patients distinctively suffer not from
mental illness, but from contingencies" (p.
135). There follows a sharply written description (esp. pp. 140-41) of how a person can be
stripped of his rights and liberties without
quite knowing this is happening, and end up

367

as a patient in a hospital with a next-of-kin


transformed into a guardian.
Once an individual is admitted to a total institution, Goffman believes that he undergoes
a process of mortification in which "he begins
a series of abasements, degradations, humiliations, and profanations of self" (p. 14). Partly in response to these processes of mortification, Goffman sees the inmates as developing
what he calls secondary adjustments which,
collectively, form the underlife of the institution. Thus, secondary adjustments are defined
as "any habitual arrangement by which a
member of an organization employs unauthorized means, or obtains unauthorized ends, or
both, thus getting around the organization's
assumptions as to what he should do and get
and hence what he should be" (p. 189).
"These practices together comprise what can
be called the underlife of the institution, being to a social establishment what an underworld is to a city" (p. 199).
In general, with regard to the concept of
the total institution, I agree with Goffman
when he says: "We now have a sizable literature on these establishments and should be in
a position to supplant mere suggestions with a
solid framework bearing on the anatomy and
functioning of this kind of social animal" (p.
123). But I disagree with the strong implication in his writing that an individual is unlikely to come through the experience of life
in a total institution, and especially a mental
hospital, somewhat the better (rather than
the worse) for it. The basis for my disagreement lies in my negative reaction to Goffman's
rather peculiar, and I think confused, view of
the self. The ideas about the structure of the
self shift and change from one essay to another and do not form as coherent a whole as
do those about the total institution.
In his Introduction, Goffman says: "A chief
concern is to develop a sociological version of
the structure of the self" (p. xiii). This is a
reasonable goal, but even a sociological self
ought to have an inner as well as an outer
face, and Goffman's self in his first essay
strikes me as having a blank inner face. Along
these lines, one of the steps reported in the
process of mortification is the stripping from
the individual of his "identity kit" which consists of "cosmetic and clothing supplies" that
the individual needs "for the management of
his personal front" (p. 20). My point is that
life in any society always requires a set of

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368

THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY

somewhat standard uniforms and behaviors,


and an "identity kit" is necessary to maintain
these, but certainly a person's "identity" -in
the sense this term has come to have in current professional literature-goes deeper than
a painted front. Goffman does not touch upon
the point that an individual might not really
need such a kit to maintain his identity.
In the second essay, in contrast to the first,
Goffman says he will look at internal (or more
personal) as well as at external (or more public) aspects of the self with regard to the
moral career of the patient. He says: "One
value of the concept of career is its two-sidedness. One side is linked to internal matters
held dearly and closely, such as image of self
and felt identity; the other side concerns official position, jural relations, and style of life,
and is part of a publicly accessible institutional complex" (p. 127). Goffman would seem to
be talking to a degree about the more personal and internal aspects of the self when he
says that a mental patient can free himself of
the definition of self provided by the institution "when he learns that he can survive while
acting in a way that society sees as destructive of him" (p. 165). And yet a few pages
later Goffman seems to deny the possibility of
such a personal achievement:
The self, then, can be seen as something that
residesin the arrangementsprevailingin a social
system for its members.The self in this sense is
not a property of the person to whom it is attributed,but dwells ratherin the pattern of social
controlthat is exertedin connectionwith the person by himselfand those aroundhim. This special
kind of institutional arrangementdoes not so
much supportthe self as constituteit [p. 168].

Sociologistshave always had a vested interest


in pointingto the ways in which the individualis
formed by groups, identifies with groups, and
wilts away unless he obtains emotional support
from groups. But when we closely observe what
goes on in a social role .

. we always find the in-

dividual employing methods to keep some distance, some elbow room, between himself and
that with which others assumehe should be identified.
. . . Perhapswe should further complicatethe
construct by elevating these qualificationsto a
central place, initially definingthe individual,for
sociologicalpurposes,as a stance-takingentity, a
somethingthat takes up a positionsomewherebetween identification with an organization and
oppositionto it, and is ready at the slightestpressure to regain its balanceby shifting its involvement in either direction.It is thus against something that the self can emerge....

I have argued

the same case in regardto total institutions.May


this not be the situation,however,in free society,
too?
Without something to belong to, we have no
stable self, and yet total commitmentand attachment to any social unit impliesa kind of selflessness. Our sense of being a person can come from
being drawn into a wider social unit; our sense
of selfhood can arise through the little ways in
which we resist the pull. Our status is backedby
the solid buildings of the world, while our sense
of personal identity often resides in the cracks
[pp. 319-20].

There are more cogent ways of conceiving


of the self than in this discontinuous fashion
where one is presented with a rather bland social self and, apparently, a somewhat harried
and antagonistic personal self that "resides in
the cracks." If life entails being against something, if it is seen as a game in which one is
always busy presenting a front, then there is
I think there is the possibility of real con- little time to integrate the part of the self that
fusion here. Does the self about which Goff- faces outward with that which faces inward,
man speaks have an inner part or is it solely or even to conceive of a reconciliation bedefined by patterns of social control? In his tween these two.
In general, then, what evaluation is to be
third essay on the underlife of a total instituof this book? It is a good book, good
made
at
and
this
clarifies
question,
tion, Goffman
the end of the essay gives the fullest state- mainly because of its clearness in looking at
ment in the book concerning his ideas about mental hospitals as one type of total institution and in providing biting concepts by
the self:
means of which to see such institutions. Such
The practice of reservingsomething of oneself clearness is, however, muddied by the almost
from the clutch of an institutionis very visible in endless provocative descriptive comparisons
mental hospitals and prisonsbut can be found in
more benign and less totalistic institutions,too. I of mental hospitals with jails, seedy boarding
want to arguethat this recalcitranceis not an in- schools, poorly run ships, and so on. A few
cidental mechanismof defense but rather an es- sharp comparisons are fine; fifty piled one on
top of the other serve to cloud the argument.
sentialconstituentof the self.

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BOOK REVIEWS
It would be possible to understand such a
proliferation of descriptive comparisons in
terms of human outrage on the part of an
observer initially working in a large mental
hospital, but, in Goffman's presentation, there
seems to be something more implied-a general view of society and the self.

369

books. It is not able to incorporate the latest


research findings; for example, there is some
recent evidence that American Catholics are
no less achievement-oriented than American
Protestants. The book is forced to limit itself
to documentable propositions; thus, on decisive matters such as the direction of the deof American pluralism or the emervelopment
WILLIAM CAUDILL
gence of a religion of Americanism, the author
National Institute of Mental Health
cannot speculate but must be content with
quoting Will Herberg. It is obliged to strive
for balance and therefore run the risk of beThe Church as a Social Institution. By DA- ing bland; for example, the chapter on "InterVM 0. MOBERG. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
faith Conflict" treats the problem adequately
Prentice Hall, Inc., 1962. Pp. vi+ 569. but does not seem to get at the core of the
$10.00.
problem, whatever that core may be.
A second series of difficulties may arise
The subtitle of Dr. Moberg's text is The
Sociology of American Religion, although a from the nature of the subject. In his Intromore accurate subtitle might have been The duction Moberg suggests that the non-believSociology of American Church Organizations, er may lack the empathy required to undersince the author's primary concern is with the stand what a religious organization is. One
forms of institutionalized religion in the might further ask if a member of one religious
United States. The book is divided into seven organization in our society has the empathy
substantive sections: "Characteristics of necessary to master the complexities that are
American Churches," "Types of Churches," at work in other organizations, even if he has
"Social Functions and Dysfunctions of the read all the literature. Moberg is obviously
Church," "Social Processes and the Church," very much at home with American Protestant"Inter-Institutional Relations," "The Social ism; however, despite a high degree of sophisPsychology of American Religion," and "Pro- tication about the other two major religious
groups he does not always seem to be insightfessional Leadership in the Church."
As a textbook for college and first-year ful when discussing them. Thus his treatment
graduate school courses in the sociology of re- of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy
ligion, the volume is admirable, but one sus- within American Protestantism would appear
pects that it will see its most frequent use in to this outsider to be excellent, but his discusseminary courses. Moberg's treatment of the sion of modernism within Catholicism and
materials under consideration is concise and Judaism strikes one as less than perceptive.
comprehensive, his judgments balanced, and In addition, Moberg is occasionally guilty of
his familiarity with the literature encyclo- such factual lapses as equating the Society for
pedic. Although some sociologists may have the Propagation of the Faith (a fund-raising
doubts about a book on religion by one who organization) with groups that are actually
believes in religion, there seems little reason engaged in missionary activities, such as the
to question that The Church as a Social Insti- Maryknollers.
These mild reservations should not obscure
tution is far and away the best available text
in the field. The only serious omission of the fact that The Church as a Social Instituwhich the reviewer is aware is the lack of any tion is a major contribution to a rapidly dereference to organized labor in a chapter on veloping branch of sociology.
"The Church and Social Problems"; the SoANDREWM. GREELEY
cial Gospel movement is discussed in another
chapter, but nothing is said about the labor National Opinion Research Center
teachings of the National Council of Churches
University of Chicago
and the only allusion to the labor theories of
the Catholic church is a footnote reference to
an extremely unfavorable article.
Urban Social Structure. By JAMES M. BESHLike all textbooks Moberg's volume labors
ERS. New York: Free Press of Glencoe,
under the faults that are inevitable in textInc., 1962. Pp. ix+207. $5.50.

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