Institutions Are Defined as the Existence of Essay

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  • Subject: Psychology
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #63059807

Excerpt from Essay :

Institutions are defined as the existence of formal rules, on the one hand, and informal conventions and norms (such as impolitic societal rules that constrain behavior and impose forms of conduct) on the other. A system of enforcement structures are set in place to ensure that society abides to both and the strength of that enforcement system generally determines the extent to which individuals of a particular society will abide by its rules and conventions.

Enforcement may be carried out by various means depending on the specific set of situations. It may be carried out by self-enforcement (such as when one imposes upon oneself dietary restrictions of eating in order to lose weight). Enforcement may also be carried out by a second party as retaliation (as, for instance, another refusing to cordially greet the other is impolitely dealt with). Thirdly, and most strongly linked to maintenance and support of institutions, enforcement may be preserved by a third party that consists of societal sanctions or coercive enforcement by the state or government).

Institutions effects all manner of the individual's existence ranging from economic -- the ability of capital-generating businesses to effectively and honestly compete in a, neutrally, anarchic world to structuring and directing an equitable and neutrally caring society and welfare state.

Some approaches suggest that institutional change is not only possible, but also should be made possible. Examples of such advocates are North (n.d.) who pointed to rapid organizational forms as exemplars of this. These include cases from American economic history such as the colonies who changed their mode of production following the threat of the Franco-Indian war and how philosophers such as Hobbes and Locke triggered changes that eventually resulted in the American Revolution. Each of these examples, and more demonstrate the way in which institutions, organizations, and individuals interact to produce institutional change.

As North (n.d.) defines it, organizations are the players (those who play in the game) of institutionalization. Whilst engaging in their play, they naturally and inevitably end up by changing some of the rules of the game particularly when it conflates or contradicts with their needs. Players of the game of institutionalization include corporations, schools, political parties, agencies and so forth that use rules to compete and, occasionally, bend them for survival or for achieving a keener edge.

Petrov (2010), too, suggests that institutionalization is an evolving process helped along by individuals and he presents comparison of the first two European Union-led military operations -- EUFOR Concordia and EUFOR Artemis -- as examples. They demonstrated a set of working norms and structures, institutionalism in their own right and although these seemed to be self-contained, closer analysis reveals it to have been shaped by individual actors during this period, sometimes a result of tension, resulting in changes in institutionalization of the EU crisis management by 2004. Petrov's (2010) conclusion was that "individual actors were of critical importance in driving forwards institutional development, especially in the early phases of new policy developments" (19).

On the other hand, other institutional approaches stress exactly the opposite, in that they point to the difficulty in changing institutions. Lijphart (1992) for instance, concludes that 'drastic changes in electoral systems and shifts from presidentialism to parliamentarialism. are extremely rare in established democracies' (p.208). Historical overview of many countries shows him to be correct. Linz (1997), too, feels the need to warn people of imagining that 'constitutional stability' does not exist. To them, external changes may take place and, when occurring, they are infrequent but, on the whole, institutional policies and norms remain inflexible and consistent.

The argument that these theorists and others use to support their perspective is that a range of economic, political, technological, social and other arrangements causes them to rationally adhere to current conventions in order to maintain the status quo. Change may be attractive in the long run, but in the short run it is costly and injurious and therefore shift to an alternative is unattractive. Institutions are, therefore, locked in, and this situation applies above the board to all institutions from political organizations to corporations and to schools all of which are extremely reluctant to modify their norms and embrace new ones. As Pierson (2000) states: "the cost benefit ratio of changing them becomes incalculable" (p.259).

I find the view of institutional change more convincing. We see that the entire history is a flux. Everything changes according to change in human culture and events. In fact, sociology of knowledge (e.g. Bergman, 1980) is articulation of this principle where change in cultural norms is achieved by one or more personalities who, shaped by the historical period, as we all are, change it, by foisting their particular impression on it.

As example in kind, I can point to Martin Luther King who dared to go against the ruling and unquestioned Catholic religion of his period. He was brought up by the institutionalism of his times, namely the norms and rules of Roman Catholicism that was the dominant, if not exclusive religion of Western Europe. Yet, daring to question the Pope and some of the practices of Catholicism he, thereby, altered institutionalism and norms that set into effect a rebounding spiral of smaller and larger changes in varying kinds of institutions, sometimes helped along by players and other times intercepted by them. We see similar episodes occurring whenever charismatic personalities stepped into the currents of history and diverted it. Freud's psychoanalysis, as per another instance, changed sexual norms in the world, and Darwin's evolutionary theory had rebounding effects on institutionalism to the extent that it changed norms in America's legal system (for instance, in their immigration policies) as well as effecting a number of other key players such as schools and colleges. Nietzsche's works impacted literature (such as DH Lawrence) and, from thence, culture, and is said to have impacted governments such as allegedly, although arguably, resulting in the norms of a Third Reich and of a fascist Italy. Better still, a preamble in the changes of institutionalism in the mental health field show how institutionalism is constantly in flux and susceptible to change.

In the 19th century, mentally handicapped people were seen by the medical profession, and, certainly, to representative society, as aberrant and 'insane'. The Webster Dictionary of 1851, for instance, classified mentally deficient as referring to "the state of being unsound in mind" and "applicable to any degree of mental derangement from slight delirium or wandering, to distraction" (Tigthe, 2005, 257). Medical texts used the term interchangeably with other definitions such as unsound mind, deranged, crazy, non-compos mentis, lunacy, madness, and alienation. The 18 century and 19th century asylums of Britain and America proudly called themselves "insane asylums" whilst asylum superintendents were themselves called 'alienists' since it was considered that they dealt with people who were alienated from society (Tigthe, 2005). The first bodies of organized medical professionals in America and Britain, who happened to dedicate their careers to mental illness, generally labeled all as derogatively 'insane' (e.g. The "Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane"), whilst journal titles, such as the "American Journal of Insanity" saw no ethical conundrum in using the term. Even Isaac Ray, an American physician who campaigned vigorously for the law to confirm to medical thinking, called his seminal text, "A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity" (Tigthe, 2005, 257).

An indication that it was condemnable characteristics (i.e. socially prevalent norms and institutions that pronounced certain characteristics to be repugnant), and that social perspective changed with the changing of these institutions can be seen with the example that, in the United States, it was proposed that refugee black slaves were mentally deficient too in that they were suffering from a mythical mental disorder named 'drapetomania'. So immune to cure was this so-called mental disorder that scientific journals of the day argued that mental disorders, rare under slavery, became more common once the slave was emancipated and that mental illness in African-Americans was traceable to their evolutionary and primitive past and, therefore, insoluble (Harris & Felder, 2004).

It was only with the passing of the Civil Rights movement and consequent social pressure that the American Psychoalgical Association decided to remove this term from the MMPI and 'drapetomania' ceased to exist. Homosexuality was in the same position. Once codified as psychological illness and institutionalized as such with guilty individuals receiving electro convulsive therapy as treatment, changes in social norms caused changes in institutionalization with the result that homosexuality is today perceived, at least in the Western world, as normal.

It was a Martin Luther King, a Thurgood Marshall, and others like them that led to changes in institutionalization in both overt and covert policies pertaining to African-Americans.

The fact that courageous individuals have, time and again, interfered with and changed institutionalism supports North's (nd) arguments about institutional change being effected by entrepreneurs. Mental models (i.e. subjective ways of perceiving the world) caused by both exogenous (i.e. external environmental impact) and endogenous (i.e. internal changes such as acquirement and…

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