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Total Institution

According to sociologist Erving Goffman, a powerful agent of socialization is total institution. He coined this term to refer to a place in which people are cut off from the rest of society and where they come under almost total control of the officials who are in charge. Boot camp, prisons, concentration camps, convents, some religious cults, and some military schools are total institutions.

A person entering a total institution is greeted with a degradation ceremony a term coined by Garfinkel that is an attempt to remake the self by stripping away the individual's current identity and stamping a new one in its place.

This greeting may involve fingerprinting, photographing, or shaving the head. Newcomers may be ordered to strip, undergo an examination and then put on a uniform that designates their new status. Officials also take away items such as jewelry, hairstyles, clothing, and other body decorations used to express individuality.

Total institutions are isolated from the public. The bars, walls, gates, and guards not only keep the inmates in but also keep outsiders out. Staff members supervise the day-to- day lives of the residents. Eating, sleeping, showering, recreation—all are standardized. Inmates learn that their previous statuses like student, worker, spouse, and parent mean nothing. The only thing that counts is their current status.