Can a Total Institution be a Castle of Hope?

The Case of an Indian Residential School for 27,000 Indigenous Students


  • Christine Finnan College of Charleston



Residential schools for indigenous students are rarely conceptualised as castles of hope, but because of the difficulty of providing quality education in rural areas, they remain an option, or a necessity, for many indigenous students. Although most contemporary residential schools differ from those that purposefully sought to annihilate indigenous cultures and languages, their existence remains problematic because students grow up in institutional environments that typically favour integration into mainstream culture over maintenance of indigenous cultures. This article is based on ethnographic research conducted in 2014-15 in a large residential school for indigenous students in Odisha, India. Erving Goffman's (1961) total institution, provides a useful frame to examine data collected on students' experiences because it focuses on institutions that separate groups of people from their communities for an expressed purpose. This case illustrates how a total institution 1) shapes students' identities and aspirations toward institutional goals, 2) separates them from the wider world, 3) encourages sacrifice and loyalty by promising hope for a better future, and 4) establishes institutional systems that maintain order through shared responsibility and commitment to the institution. Although students at this school are separated from their families and communities and learn a set of behaviours critical to the smooth functioning of the institution, the data indicate that they and their families accept the sacrifices associated with institutional schooling because of the promise of becoming societal change agents, comfortable in both indigenous and mainstream India.



16-07-2020 — Updated on 19-04-2022


How to Cite

Finnan, C. (2022). Can a Total Institution be a Castle of Hope? The Case of an Indian Residential School for 27,000 Indigenous Students. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 30(2), 29–43. (Original work published July 16, 2020)