Alienation and Identity Maintenance in Quasi-Total Institutions

Kyle Rakowski


A great body of work exists within sociology concerning the role and character of total institutions. However, the existing research primarily concerns either seemingly benevolent versions of such institutions or more absolute realizations of total institutions. In this article I explore the alienating and identity-constructing roles of quasi-total institutions by means of qualitative research conducted at an intensive mental health facility for female juvenile offenders. First, I examine the ways in which the physical space is used as ‘critical space’ in identity construction. Second, I investigate how peers can act as cohorts in the continued maintenance of personal identity. Third, I explore the manner by which the failures of the institution can be used as a vehicle of agency for those serving time. Finally, I discuss the ways in which these institutional characteristics might be precursors to, or share institutional characteristics with, more absolute total institutions.

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