Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Social Work


Despite the generally optimistic and hopeful tone of organizational goals and public policy, the general record of residential treatment institutions, or asylums, and of efforts to reform them have been equally unsuccessful. In this paper, it is argued that the lack of success in basic institutional reform over much of the past two centuries is, itself, a part of the tragic cycle of institutionalization. A principle factor in the failure of reforms (the tragic flaw, as it were) is the naive rationalism, which forms the psychological and sociological basis of the dominant model of institutional life used by institutional officials and reformers alike. This rationalistic approach adopts a completely unrealistic approach toward the principia media, or causal linkages through which the implementation of public policy is to be accomplished. Until planners break out of this mold, there is little reason to suspect that the tragic cycles of institutions will be broken, except by chance.


This was written as a working paper in a project on de-institutionalization I was working on at the time.



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