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An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community. Institutions are identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual human lives and intentions, and with the making and enforcing of rules governing cooperative human behavior.
The term "institution" is commonly applied to customs and behavior patterns important to a society, as well as to particular formal organizations of government and public service. As structures and mechanisms of social order among humans, institutions are one of the principal objects of study in the social sciences, such as political science, anthropology, economics, and sociology (the latter being described by Durkheim as the "science of institutions, their genesis and their functioning"). Institutions are also a central concern for law, the formal mechanism for political rule-making and enforcement.
Types of institution
- Marriage and the family - sociology of the family
- Religion and religious institutions - see sociology of religion; civil religion
- Educational institutions - schools (preschool, primary/elementary, secondary, and post-secondary/higher - see Sociology of education)
- Research community - Academia and universities; research institutes - see sociology of science
- Medicine - hospitals and other health care institutions - see sociology of health and illness, medical sociology
- Law and legal system - courts; judges; the legal profession (bar) - see jurisprudence, philosophy of law, sociology of law
- Military or paramilitary forces - see military sociology
- Police forces
- Mass media - including the news media (television, newspapers) and the popular media - see media studies
- Industry - businesses, including corporations - see financial institution, factory, capitalism, division of labour, social class, industrial sociology
- Civil society or NGOs - Charitable organizations; advocacy groups; political parties; think tanks; virtual communities
In an extended context:
- Art and culture (See also: Culture industry, Critical theory, Cultural studies, Cultural sociology)
- Language (See also: Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Sociology of language)
- The nation-state - Social and political scientists often speak of the state as embodying all institutions such as schools, prisons, and so on. However, these institutions may be considered private or autonomous, whilst organised religion and family life certainly pre-date the advent of the nation state. In the Neo-Marxist thought of Antonio Gramsci, for instance, a distinction may be felt between the institutions of political society (the police, the army, legal system, etc.) which dominates directly and coercively, and civil society (the family, the education system, etc.)
Aspects of institutions
Although individual, formal organizations, commonly identified as "institutions," may be deliberately and intentionally created by people, the development and functioning of institutions in society in general may be regarded as an instance of emergence; that is, institutions arise, develop and function in a pattern of social self-organization, which goes beyond the conscious intentions of the individual humans involved.
As mechanisms of social interaction, institutions are manifest in both objectively real, formal organizations, such as the U.S. Congress, or the Roman Catholic Church, and, also, in informal social order and organization, reflecting human psychology, culture, habits and customs. Most important institutions, considered abstractly, have both objective and subjective aspects: examples include money and marriage. The institution of money encompasses many formal organizations, including banks and government treasury departments and stock exchanges, which may be termed, "institutions," as well as subjective experiences, which guide people in their pursuit of personal well-being. Powerful institutions are able to imbue a paper currency with certain value, and to induce millions into cooperative production and trade in pursuit of economic ends abstractly denominated in that currency's units. The subjective experience of money is so pervasive and persuasive that economists talk of the "money illusion" and try to disabuse their students of it, in preparation for learning economic analysis.
While institutions tend to appear to people in society as part of the natural, unchanging landscape of their lives, study of institutions by the social sciences tends to reveal the nature of institutions as social constructions, artifacts of a particular time, culture and society, produced by collective human choice, though not directly by individual intention. Sociology traditionally analyzed social institutions in terms of interlocking social roles and expectations. Social institutions created and were composed of groups of roles, or expected behaviors. The social function of the institution was executed by the fulfillment of roles. Basic biological requirements, for reproduction and care of the young, are served by the institutions of marriage and family, for example, by creating, elaborating and prescribing the behaviors expected for husband/father, wife/mother, child, etc.
The relationship of institutions to human nature is a foundational question for the social sciences. Institutions can be seen as "naturally" arising from, and conforming to, human nature—a fundamentally conservative view—or institutions can be seen as artificial, almost accidental, and in need of architectural redesign, informed by expert social analysis, to better serve human needs—a fundamentally progressive view. Adam Smith anchored his economics in the supposed human "propensity to truck, barter and exchange". Modern feminists have criticized traditional marriage and other institutions as element of an oppressive and obsolete patriarchy. The Marxist view which sees human nature as historically 'evolving' towards voluntary social cooperation, shared by some anarchists, is that supraindividual institutions such as the market and the state are incompatible with the individual liberty which would obtain in a truly free society.
Economics, in recent years, has used game theory to study institutions from two perspectives. Firstly, how do institutions survive and evolve? In this perspective, institutions arise from Nash equilibria of games. For example, whenever people pass each other in a corridor or thoroughfare, there is a need for customs, which avoid collisions. Such a custom might call for each party to keep to their own right (or left—such a choice is arbitrary, it is only necessary that the choice be uniform and consistent). Such customs may be supposed to be the origin of rules, such as the rule, adopted in many countries, which requires driving automobiles on the right side of the road.
Secondly, how do institutions affect behaviour? In this perspective, the focus is on behaviour arising from a given set of institutional rules. In these models, institutions determine the rules (i.e. strategy sets and utility functions) of games, rather than arise as equilibria out of games. For example, the Cournot duopoly model is based on an institution involving an auctioneer who sells all goods at the market-clearing price. While it is always possible to analyse behaviour with the institutions-as-equilibria approach instead, it is much more complicated.
In political science, the effect of institutions on behavior has also been considered from a meme perspective, like game theory borrowed from biology. A "memetic institutionalism" has been proposed, suggesting that institutions provide selection environments for political action, whereby differentiated retention arises and thereby a Darwinian evolution of institutions over time. Public choice theory, another branch of economics with a close relationship to political science, considers how government policy choices are made, and seeks to determine what the policy outcomes are likely to be, given a particular political decision-making process and context.
In history, a distinction between eras or periods, implies a major and fundamental change in the system of institutions governing a society. Political and military events are judged to be of historical significance to the extent that they are associated with changes in institutions. In European history, particular significance is attached to the long transition from the feudal institutions of the Middle Ages to the modern institutions, which govern contemporary life.
The term "institutionalisation" is widely used in social theory to refer to the process of embedding something (for example a concept, a social role, a particular value or mode of behaviour) within an organisation, social system, or society as a whole. The term may also be used to refer to committing a particular individual to an institution, such as a mental institution. To this extent, "institutionalisation" may carry negative connotations regarding the treatment of, and damage caused to, vulnerable human beings by the oppressive or corrupt application of inflexible systems of social, medical, or legal controls by publicly owned, private or not-for-profit organisations.
The term "institutionalisation" may also be used in a political sense to apply to the creation or organisation of governmental institutions or particular bodies responsible for overseeing or implementing policy, for example in welfare or development.
Institutionalisation as a socio-political phenomenon in Europe
During the period of the industrial revolution in Europe many countries went through a period of "institutionalisation", which saw a large expansion and development of the role of government within society, particularly into areas seen previously as the private sphere. Institutionalisation is also seen as being an important part of process of modernisation in developing countries, involving again the expansion and improved organisation of government structures.
Public and civic organisations acquired great authority and wealth during and in the century following the Industrial Revolution in the UK and other rapidly developing nation states. The growing demands of industry for high volume labour supplies in the nineteenth century also created an ethos in which the needs and rights of the unproductive or vulnerable individual were deemed less important than the needs of society as a whole. Large numbers of beggars and high rates of crime and disease were a consequence of the massive social and economic changes experienced in the period following the battle of Waterloo. Social unrest from the Peterloo riots onwards resulted in a significant Chartist challenge to established authority on the streets of major cities like Sheffield, Manchester, and Glasgow in the 1840s.
During the period from 1850-1930 many types of institutions were created by public subscription, parliament and local authorities to provide housing, healthcare, education, and financial support for individuals in need. At the upper end of the scale, public boarding schools such as Eton and Harrow were founded or greatly extended to meet the growing demand for the education of the children of those in colonial service overseas. These were seen as models of social improvement, and many inferior imitations followed for the lower social orders. Virtually every borough in the UK was required by legislation to make provision for paupers, homeless, released prisoners, convicted criminals, orphans, disabled war veterans, older people with no means of support, deaf and blind schools, schools and colonies for those with learning disabilities or mental health problems.
Distinguishing features of such institutions were frequently, but not exclusively:
- communal dormitories
- communal kitchens and dining facilities
- rural, isolated locations
- restrictions on personal liberty and possessions
- oppressive, authoritarian regimes
- strict systems of rules and codes of conduct
- use of well-recognized propaganda techniques
- boards of visitors or trustees, usually drawn from the ranks of the upper middle classes, the so-called "great and good"
- hierarchical systems of management
- compulsory religious attendance
- involvement of inmates as unpaid or poorly rewarded labour in return for small privileges
- widespread abuse of human rights, dignity
- rigid separation of the sexes
- excessive reliance on medication and physical restraints
Many of these organisations, whilst originally expressing idealistic aspirations and aims, became "total" institutions within a generation or two of their foundation, providing in some cases cradle to grave housing, occupation and social control. Founding charters usually proclaimed beneficial outcomes of "reform" (or rehabilitation) of character through moral and occupation education and discipline, but in practice inmates were often trapped in a system that provided no obvious route of escape or promotion. As late as the 1950s, in Britain, several hundred thousand people lived in Victorian asylums and "colonies".
Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his opus The Social Contract that "Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping from them: they love their servitude". Institutionalisation is a similar process.
The dangers of institutions were chronicled and criticised by reformers almost since their foundation. Charles Dickens was an outspoken and high profile early critic, and several of his novels, in particular Oliver Twist and Hard Times demonstrate his insight into the damage that institutions can do to human beings.
Enoch Powell, when Minister for Health in the early 1960s, was a later opponent who was appalled by what he witnessed on his visits to the asylums, and his famous "water tower" speech in 1961 called for the closure of all NHS asylums and their replacement by wards in general hospitals:
"There they stand, isolated, majestic, imperious, brooded over by the gigantic water-tower and chimney combined, rising unmistakable and daunting out of the countryside - the asylums which our forefathers built with such immense solidity to express the notions of their day. Do not for a moment underestimate their powers of resistance to our assault. Let me describe some of the defences which we have to storm."
Scandal after scandal followed, with many high profile public inquiries. These involved the exposure of abuses such as unscientific surgical techniques such as lobotomy and the widespread neglect and abuse of vulnerable patients in the USA and Europe. The growing anti-psychiatry movement in the 1960s and 1970s led in Italy to the first successful legislative challenge to the authority of the mental institutions, culminating in their closure.
During the 1980 s and 1990s the hospital population started to fall rapidly, mainly because of the deaths of long-term inmates. Significant efforts were made to re-house large numbers of former residents in a variety of suitable or otherwise alternative accommodation. The first 1,000+ bed hospital to close was Darenth Park in Kent, swiftly followed by many more across the UK. The haste of these closures, driven by the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major, led to considerable criticism in the press, as some individuals slipped through the net into homelessness or were discharged to poor quality private sector mini-institutions. The resistance of many institutions to change, predicted by Enoch Powell, has continued into the 21st century, and there are still several thousand people permanently resident in the dwindling asylums and long stay hospital replacement campuses scattered across the UK.
Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt details how professional training programs and other induction procedures to institutions socialize new recruits to respect group norms whilst selecting those newcomers not only technically capable to function within the institution but also responsive to its socialization process.
- Actor analysis
- state, Nation, country, Sovereign state
- for effect on individuals: institutionalisation
- Erving Goffman
- Historical institutionalism
- Ideological state apparatus
- Institutional abuse
- Institutional economics
- Institutional logic
- Institutional memory
- Linkage institution
- Berger, P. L. and T. Luckmann (1966), The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, Anchor Books, Garden City, NY.
- Chang, Ha-Joon (ed.) (2007), Institutional Change and Economic Development, Anthem Press.
- Greif, Avner (2006), Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521671347
- North, D. C. (1990), Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Schotter, A. (1981), The Economic Theory of Social Institutions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Report of the Committee of Inquiry into allegations of ill-treatment of patients and other irregularities at the Ely Hospital, Cardiff, HMSO 1969
- Extracts of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Normansfield Hospital - British Medical Journal, 1978, 2, 1560–1563
- Whyte, William H., The Organization Man, Doubleday Publishing, 1956. (excerpts from Whyte's book)
- The Production and Reproduction of Scandals in Chronic Sector Hospitals Amy Munson- Barkshire 1981
- "Social Institutions," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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Look at other dictionaries:
institution — [ ɛ̃stitysjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1190; lat. institutio I ♦ 1 ♦ Rare Action d instituer. ⇒ création, établissement, fondation. L institution d une fête annuelle, d une commission d enquête. L institution du calendrier grégorien en 1582. « l institution du… … Encyclopédie Universelle
institution — in‧sti‧tu‧tion [ˌɪnstˈtjuːʆn ǁ ˈtuː ] noun 1. [countable] a large important organization: • Japanese institutions are steadily increasing their presence in Europe. • the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors deˈpository instiˌtution… … Financial and business terms
institution — Institution. s. f. v. Action par laquelle on instituë, on establit. L Institution des jeux Olympiques. l institution d un tel Ordre. l institution des Pairs de France, du Parlement. les paroles sont de l institution des hommes. c est une loüable … Dictionnaire de l'Académie française
Institution — In sti*tu tion, n. [L. institutio: cf. F. institution.] [1913 Webster] 1. The act or process of instituting; as: (a) Establishment; foundation; enactment; as, the institution of a school. [1913 Webster] The institution of God s law is described… … The Collaborative International Dictionary of English
institution — institution, social institution The use of the term institution in sociology, meaning established aspects of society, is close to that in common English usage. However, there have been some changes over time in the exact conceptualization of the… … Dictionary of sociology
institution — in·sti·tu·tion n 1: the act of instituting 2: a significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture the institution of marriage 3: an established organization or corporation esp. of a public character; specif: a facility… … Law dictionary
Institution — (v. lat. Institutio), 1) Einsetzung, Einrichtung, bes. die politischen Einrichtungen eines Staates, welche die Rechte u. Freiheiten der Staatsbürger der Regierung gegenüber garantiren sollen; 2) Beförderung zu einem Amte od. einer Kirchenpfründe; … Pierer's Universal-Lexikon
Institution — (lat.), Stiftung, Anordnung, Einrichtung, bes. Staats und bürgerliche Einrichtung; auch Einsetzung in ein Amt. Institutionen, Unterweisungen, Teil des Corpus juris, welcher eine enzyklopäd. Übersicht des röm. Rechts enthält, unter Justinian 533… … Kleines Konversations-Lexikon
institution — c.1400, action of establishing or founding (a system of government, a religious order, etc.), from O.Fr. institucion foundation; thing established, from L. institutionem (nom. institutio) disposition, arrangement; instruction, education, noun of… … Etymology dictionary
Institution — [Network (Rating 5600 9600)] … Deutsch Wörterbuch
institution — ► NOUN 1) an important organization or public body, such as a university, bank, hospital, or Church. 2) an organization providing residential care for people with special needs. 3) an established law or custom. 4) informal a well established and… … English terms dictionary