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Every association, in accordance with its particular interest, has its characteristic institutions. When men create associations they must also create rules and procedures for the dispatch of the common business and for the regulation of the members.

Such forms are distinctively institutions. The church, for example, has its sacraments, its modes of worship, its rituals. The family has marriage, that is, the institution of mating relationship; it has home, the family meal and so on.

The state has its own peculiar institutions, such as representative government and legislative procedures. Thus, an institution is the established forms or conditions of procedure characteristic of group activity.


We do not belong to institutions, but to associations. Sometimes confusion arises between institution and association because the same term, in a different context, may mean either one or the other.

There is no difficulty in deciding, according to our definition, that the church is an association and communion an institution, that the trade union is an association and collective bargaining, an institution, that the family is an association and monogamy, an institution. But which term shall we apply to a hospital, a parliament, a prison, a college?

When we speak of a hospital we may be thinking of a building for the care of the sick, a system of medical service, a provision publicly or privately established to meet certain social needs; in other words, we may be thinking of it as an institution. But we may also think of it as a body of physicians, nurses, attendants-in other words as an association.

There is a simple way in which we can find an answer to our question. If we are considering something as an organised group, it is an association; if as a form of procedure, it is an institution. Association denotes membership; institution denotes a mode or means of service.


When we regard college as a body of teachers and students, we are selecting its associational aspect, but when we regard it as an educational system we are selecting its institutional features. We cannot belong to an institution. We do not belong to marriage or property system or solitary confinement, but we do belong to families, to states and sometimes to prisons.

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