Selznick (1949, etc.) defines an institution* as something that has been infused with value beyond its rational purpose. We usually talk about institutions with respect to organizations or practices – arguing, for example, that the TVA had become institutionalized because its employees, beneficiaries, etc. actually gave a shit about what happened to it as the TVA. We can think of all sorts of organizations that have this feature – my high school, for example, universities, states, etc. I was thinking about the definition today because I was packing all my worldly belongings in the process of moving and I noticed that I took much, much more care with a small subset of things than I did with the rest. Playstation 2? Throw it in a box. The Super Nintendo? Wrap it lovingly, making sure each game is safe. So, I thought I’d write up a brief list of the things that are most institutionalized for me**. This post is oddly personal, so feel free to skip it if you don’t like reading that sort of thing.
I’m probably forgetting one or two, but those are the most salient. Oddly, no single book comes to mind. I love all my Borges books, but I could easily purchase more copies of them. None (as physical instantiations) have been infused with value beyond their rational purpose, even though the books (as sets of ideas and linked words) mean a great deal to me. My books as a whole I feel very protective of, however, and I am simultaneously embarrassed and proud of the ridiculous number I’ve purchased in the past several years. Alright, off to store my things in yet another basement.
* Roughly, my books are all packed, along with my other possessions.
** In an Actor-Network-like argument, I would say that I strongly associate with certain objects that form a part of myself, while other possessions are more distant and used more instrumentally – I don’t care what happens to most of my things, but I do care what happens to some of them, and those that I care about thus form a strong part of myself-as-network. Enh, might be misreading ANT a bit here. I’ll let you know next term.
***A slightly different photo than the one linked.