In a disability context, “institution” means something like “an organization that keeps disabled folks separate from mainstream society and under the control of others”.
It used to be fairly common practice for families (under great pressure from doctors and state authorities) to send their disabled children to residential institutions and then have no further relationship with them. That’s fallen out of favor in the past couple of decades, but a lot of the underlying power dynamics remain in service providers in other settings.
For instance, group homes are often referred to as being “living in the community” rather than “institutions”, but they also often have identical power dynamics.
Similarly, some places will say that they are not institutions but are rather “intentional communities” or some sort of utopian village because they are farms and cottages rather than big harshly lit buildings. But again, they have the same power dynamics.
The power dynamics can be hard to spot if you don’t know how to look for them, because a lot of institutions will go out of their way to pretend they’re doing something fundamentally different.
Some handy ways to spot institutions, for my followers!
If an adult has a bedtime, it’s an institution.
If an adult can’t make a burrito at midnight just because they want to, it’s an institution.
If you can’t fire your staff without losing your home, it’s an institution. (Jargon version: if housing and service provision are linked, it’s an institution.)
If more than six disabled people are living there, dollars to doughnuts it’s an institution.
If everyone says it’s the residents’ choice to live there, but all you can find is quotes from family members, those residents are under guardianship and it’s an institution.
I’ve seen the thing about more than six before, but I’ve also seen it disputed, and I don’t really understand that rubric.
It seems to me that six people is *easily* enough people to have that kind of dynamic. I think four is too. Aren’t there group homes with four adults?
Also, there are things like subsidized housing complexes for elderly and disabled people that don’t link service provision and housing. Do you regard those as institutions? I thought that they often weren’t.