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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Institution (n.) refers to an establishment, organization, or association built upon a system of regulations and arrangements that are focused on promoting a specific object or goal. [1] Institution is derived from its root word: institute, which means “to establish, set up.” [2] The origin of the word comes from the Latin instituĕre, which bares the same meaning. By the 12th century, it had surfaced in the Old French language in the form of institucion which evolved into the Middle English institution we recognize today.

The first usages of the word were strictly in religious contexts. It was defined as the act of founding establishments within Christian churches and especially of Eucharist. Over time, the religious annotations wore away but the core understanding remained fundamentally unchanged. A later definition of institution points to the action of giving form, order and regulation to a thing through the use of systems. The institution, by this definition, is the implementation of the system. Systems are therefore heavily essential to the existence of institutions. A system is formed from a group of different components that work together to accomplish a collective goal. An example of institution would be implementing the Dewey Decimal System in libraries. [3] The system is a tool created by or for the institution, to be used by the institution.

An additional definition of institution is established laws, practices or other elements in the political or social life of a people. [1] Like the previous, these institutions regulate and organize. They use systems to serve the needs of an organized community. [1] An example would be the view of murder as malum in se, an evil within itself. [4] It is a social norm to be disgusted or sickened by the idea of murder. One system used in this case is education, which teaches the young that murder is something that should condemned and thus society as a whole ends up rejecting murder. The institution of the rejection of murder regulates our human instincts, which are to be violent and savage. [5]

The attributive definitions of institution form the modern definition of the word. The two definitions of institution described above slightly differ. Previously, the institution was differentiated by being the action of implementation, not the object. Now, institution has become the object; the organization, government, or element which regulates the system. The meaning of institution is now used interchangeably with that of the system. Both of which are objects that can create form and order in the society. Thus, systems can be institutions and institutions can also be systems. 

1. "Institution." Home : Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/97110 (accessed November 20, 2012).

2. "Institute." Home : Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/97107#eid382175 (accessed November 19, 2012).

3. "Dewey Decimal System - A Guide to Call Numbers." University Library, University of Illinois. http://www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/about/dewey.html (accessed November 19, 2012).

4. "Malum in se | LII / Legal Information Institute." LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/malum_in_se (accessed November 20, 2012).

5. "Freud - human nature." Science and Philosophy – a coherent world-view. http://sciphilos.info/docs_pages/docs_Freud_css.html (accessed November 20, 2012).

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