Note to self

I need to look into this thing one of my history professors mentioned. Because I don’t know anything about it except his little digression to explain something in an essay we read. This is roughly what he said, as far as I can remember:

There’s this concept that was in vogue for a while called the “total institution”, meaning some kind of system, like a prison, that’s enclosed and isolated, and has some authority controlling everything that goes on inside– every aspect of the prisoners’ lives. It started as a way of conceiving of Nazi concentration camps, and then people tried to see how it would apply to other things, like slavery (and in the case of our reading, 16th-century sailing ships). It went out of fashion because research showed that even the worst institutions anyone could think of — they were never really that total. There are always things going on that the authorities don’t know about, always people rebelling in various small ways, and sometimes in big ways.

What’s on my mind is, that was the end of what my professor had to say, but now I feel like he stopped right before the interesting part. There aren’t total institutions because there don’t HAVE to be. It doesn’t TAKE a total institution to fuck people up. It doesn’t TAKE this dystopian kind of total control over everything you do and say and hear. To get an effective institution, it doesn’t take nearly that much work.

Exactly what kind and how much outside control of their life does it take to really traumatize someone, now, that’s an interesting question.


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