The Transitory, Non-Compulsory, Perennial Institution : summer camps’ impact on identity and identification in an adaptive total institution
Elizabeth E. Chenok
May 9, 2018
Department or Program
This thesis investigates the experiences and identities of summer camping staff who have worked at overnight summer camps. My specific research questions are as follows: 1) To what extent does residential summer camp function as a total institution model? 2) How do the total institutional characteristics of the residential summer camp impact identity and identification in staff members? This study utilizes in-depth interviews with 16 different staff members from a residential Jewish summer camp. An introduction to summer camping literature and theoretical frameworks set a foundation for a highly theoretical exploration of summer camping characteristics through the frame of Erving Goffman’s concept of the Total Institution (TI) and Symbolic Interactionist approaches. Summer camping characteristics such as the purpose of summer camp, figurative and physical barriers containing camps, interactions with the "outside world," and autonomy of staff members are used in comparison with Goffman’s original ideology. I propose an adaptation of Goffman’s original TI: The Transitory, Non-Compulsory Perennial Institution (TNP), which takes Goffman’s original TI to a softer and more ambiguous place that highlights the temporality, voluntary nature, and traditional components of camping. Following, there is a detailed exploration of identification and identity management through symbolic interactionism and factors such as: summer camp as identity, space and place differences at camp versus home, and performative interactions among staff members.