This research project will investigate the dynamics of relations of (extreme) dependency, with special emphasis on forms of autonomy and participation in decision making, that occur in two types of 'total institutions': prisons and health care institutions. Prisoners and patients are subjected to the rules of the institution of which they are inhabitants, without (directly) choosing to be in that position (contrary to other total institutions, e.g. monasteries.
Moreover, certain groups of inhabitants of total institutions, such as prisoners and patients, may become extremely dependent on the institution and its staff. Over the past few years, legislation was developed in Belgium to strengthen the rights and means for participation in decision making for both prisoners and patients (e.g. the Belgian Prison Act of 2005, the Rights of Patients Act of 2002). Through a combination of extensive legal analysis and ethnographic research we want to understand the complex mechanisms of losing and regaining autonomy and the place of legislation in these mechanisms. Participant observation,
semi-structured interviewing and extensive document analysis will be used to gather data in these two settings. The data will also be reviewed in the light of the current human rights discourses and notions of 'human dignity'.