Graduate Seminar: Soc. C229B, PEOPLE PROCESSING INSTITUTIONS

Professor Robert M. Emerson

Complex modern societies rely on formal institutions for both social control and providing "helping" services. While many of these institutions are state created, others function independently but within the shadow of the state. All these institutions, however, show qualities of bureaucracy as identified by Weber, Foucault, and other classic sociological theorists. Indeed, some theorists have argued that what is distinctive of a number of such institutions is that they change the official status of the population or clientele who come within their jurisdiction. Thus, Hasenfeld (1972) has pointed to a number of common features of "people-processing institutions," including criminal and juvenile courts which designate "criminals" and "delinquents," welfare agencies which decide on clients' eligibility for benefits, HMOs which determine the appropriateness of medical procedures, etc. These institutions, for example, carry out their fundamental work tasks by creating cases and moving these cases through to different institutional outcomes. In this sense people-processing institutions contrast with "people-changing institutions" which work to treat, reform or in some other way actually do something to those processed.

This course will examine the functioning and significance of a variety of people processing institutions, including criminal and juvenile courts and related agencies, medicine, psychiatry, human service and education. Substantively, the course will first review the theoretical foundations of sociological analyses of people-processing institutions. It will then examine some generic properties of the interactional and organizational functioning of these institutions.

Soc. 229B will be loosely coupled with Soc. 149 ("Youth, Trouble and Juvenile Justice"), with the latter focusing specifically on youth and juvenile justice, the former on more generic issues and process. Those interested specifically in juvenile justice might consider auditing Soc. 149.