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Going to the Crackhouse: Critical Space as a Form of Resistance in Total Institutions and Everyday Life

Jill A. McCorkel
Symbolic Interaction
Vol. 21, No. 3 (1998), pp. 227-252
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction
DOI: 10.1525/si.1998.21.3.227
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/si.1998.21.3.227
Page Count: 26
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Going to the Crackhouse: Critical Space as a Form of Resistance in Total Institutions and Everyday Life
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Abstract

This article explores the extent to which organizational identity claims and the formal organization of social control influence how actors in a total institution conceptualize their “real” selves. The setting for this case study is Project Rehabilitate Women, a drug treatment program serving incarcerated female offenders. Using Goffman's analysis of the total institution as a guide, I explore the importance of “secondary adjustments” for self-definition. This analysis will show that the capacity of residents to distance themselves from the label of “addict” is contingent on the formal structure of social control. I will argue that, in the absence of traditional distancing strategies, residents construct “critical space” as an alternative means to subvert institutional control mechanisms and to creatively acquire the resources necessary to articulate definitions of self that are distinct from staff constructions. It is clear that resistance, whether temporary or sustained, successful or failed, is central to how subordinates maintain their sense of self in an environment committed to radical self-transformation.

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