Short Communication

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 605-613

First online:

Perspectives on Erving Goffman’s “Asylums” fifty years on

  • John AdlamAffiliated withDepartment of Psychotherapy, St Thomas’ Hospital
  • , Irwin GillAffiliated withDepartment of Paediatrics, Children’s University Hospital
  • , Shane N. GlackinAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin
  • , Brendan D. KellyAffiliated withDepartment of Adult Psychiatry, University College DublinMater Misericordiae University Hospital
  • , Christopher ScanlonAffiliated withMaudsley Foundation NHS Trust
  • , Seamus Mac SuibhneAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, St Luke’s HospitalSchool of Medicine, University College Cork Email author 

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Erving Goffman’s “Asylums” is a key text in the development of contemporary, community-orientated mental health practice. It has survived as a trenchant critique of the asylum as total institution, and its publication in 1961 in book form marked a further stage in the discrediting of the asylum model of mental health care. In this paper, some responses from a range of disciplines to this text, 50 years on, are presented. A consultant psychiatrist with a special interest in cultural psychiatry and mental health legislation, two collaborating psychotherapists in adult and forensic mental health, a philosopher, and a recent medical graduate, present their varying responses to the text. The editors present these with the hope of encouraging further dialogue and debate from service users, carers, clinicians, and academics and researchers across a range of disciplines.


Institutionalisation Mental health Asylums Psychiatry Mental illness Hospitals