What is institutionalization in sociology?

The process by which beliefs, norms, social roles, values, or certain modes of behaviour are embedded in an organisation, a social system, or a society as a whole is called institutionalization. These concepts are said to be institutionalized when they are sanctioned and internalised within a group or a society. Through institutionalization, rules and procedures are developed or transformed in order to influence human interactions, coordinate behaviour, create normative action, and regulate social roles.

Institutionalization takes place through various institutions. These institutions emerge when people search for ways to meet their needs. The patterns they develop when become workable, get standardised in their course of time through repetition. These are then sanctioned as norms. People behave and guide their actions in accordance with these standardised patterns and norms. They are assigned statuses and positions in the society on the basis of these norms and a certain kind of behaviour is accepted from them. In other words, the norms apply to the members of a social system on the basis of their status or social position. The extent to which a norm is internalised or accepted is a matter of degree. Some norms like protecting one’s own family might be deeply internalised whereas other norms like attending social gatherings might not be internalised strongly. Again, not all members of society can be expected to be aware of all the norms prevailing in that society. A norm can be said to be institutionalized even when it is not known or accepted by all the members.  However, social norms might differ from one social system to another. For example, in some societies, marriage between parallel cousins is prohibited while in others it might be permitted.

Spontaneous and impulsive behaviour are replaced by behaviour which is expected or patterned. This is the aim of institutionalization. Thus, institutionalization can be understood as the process by which a social institution develops from being a set of unorganized and unplanned actions to a patterned and organised set of behaviours having a social structure, norms, roles, and social functions. It not only takes place with the creation of new institutions but also when existing or established institutions adapt or adopt new behaviours or ideas within it. In conclusion, it can be inferred that institutionalization is characterised by the three processes of rulemaking, rule adaptation, and rule change or replacement.

When a person is institutionalized within a particular institution, it often becomes difficult for him to live outside the institutional context. Through institutionalization, people get used to definite norms, they behave in a pattered and expected way, and their actions become predictable and regular. This institutionalized behaviour results from being a member of what Erving Goffman called a Total Institution, for example, a prison, a mental asylum, an orphanage, and so on. A person in a prison would be so used to living there being locked up for a long time, that he would find it difficult to live outside it. He can be said to have been institutionalized.


  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutionalisation
  2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/institutionalization
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