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Burke: Individualism vs. Institution

November 9, 2010

Today in discussion we spoke about Burke and his ideas of being part of an institution. With an institution comes beliefs, ideals, and the ideology of the group one chooses to join. Burke argues that institutions are the long term product of traditions and experiences that occur over the years. He feels as if individualism enforces ideas that people have to reason for themselves. Burke does not want people to reason for themselves, but rather be a part of these traditional values that were passed down over the generations.


With this in mind I have a question. Can one display individualism within an institution? Are both terms deemed to be separated or can they bounce off each other? The way I see it is that anyone who joins something is part of that institution. A basketball team, a club, the University of Michigan as a whole, and greek life are all examples of institutions. I think I have a problem with Burke’s claim against individualism in that I see so many people around campus setting out to achieve their individualistic goals as they are among the institution of UM. There comes this idea that institutions are created, and those who join each institution are people who embody the ideas that are set forth by the institution. By doing so does one give up their individualism? If I meet a student here who is an experienced snowboarder I’m going to think they are pretty unique, but the second they join the UM snowboarding club do they give away their individualism in that institution?


A counter argument to Burke is well what if the people joining these institutions are being manipulated? Can institutions constrain you? Can joining certain institutions limit the individualism that you could have had on your own, and where would Burke stand on this idea? I feel as if Burke thinks that there is always room for free thinking and once a person enters their individualism they experience aspects of their life they may not ever known existed.


I took this picture in the basement of my house as an example of the tradition that Burke would support.


This idea mentioned in my discussion today in regards to individualism vs. cumulative knowledge can go back and forth. I am part of the greek life system and will use this as an example. I know that Burke would have really appreciated the idea of greek life and how in all sorority and fraternity houses there are several composite pictures showing all the brothers/sisters of the past who lived in that house. Personally, I think that students join greek life chapters that promote the ideas they are looking for, and I also think that once involved in these institutions it shapes your individualism. There are an endless amount of examples for institutions ranging from religious views all the way to the political party you side with.


I suppose what I’m looking to find out from this post is whether or not people think that individualism can exist in institutions, if institutions influence individualism, or if there is no correlation between the two.

  1. Andrew Babat permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:05 PM

    I think you can be an individual in an institution. With an institution comes beliefs and ideals. Although many traditions remain the same, some of these beliefs and ideals change over time. Individuals can choose to agree with beliefs or ideals of the past, or come up with new ones. This allows people to be individuals within the institution.

  2. tanoodle permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:14 PM

    I agree with the idea that individualism can exist within institutions because institutions are often created to nourish that individualism. I feel that when someone joins an institution, they are not giving up any part of their individual ideas, but are instead contributing these ideas to the larger group, and are identifying with the other people within it. Institutions like clubs in the university allow people to share their individualism and come together to cultivate these individual thoughts. Institutions do not hinder individualism; instead, they further it.

  3. jungle12 permalink
    November 9, 2010 8:49 PM

    I believe that individuality and institutions work together and creates a cycle. I believe that individuals can flourish within an institution and that institutions can flourish with the help of individuals. What makes an institution great? The collaboration of all the different individuals. And what can institutions do for individuals? Institutions can motivate and inspire the individual to do bigger and greater things. Without individuals and institutions there will be chaos.

  4. chris070310 permalink
    November 9, 2010 9:46 PM

    In our section today we talked about the comparison of individualism to institutions. We said that it is possible for the two to coencide with each other. Most people believed that if individuals are themselves but go by a moral or tradition that all go by then it will work up to a extent, like a church, fraternity, clubs, teams, etc. However, when a person becomes more of a individual than their own institution, then this causes conflicts which will not let the two work together. In closing, in order for a individual to be a individual in a institution they have to do their own part to better the instituion, but never think different from the main goal or purpose of the institution.

  5. rebmarbs permalink
    November 10, 2010 11:10 PM

    I think with a topic such as this there is no clear answer, black or white. I think of it as a scale: the more one is involved in an institution, the less individual they become, and vice versa. I think that the bulk of people in an institution are moderate participants, and therefore have a balance between their individual interests and those of the institution. It is inevitable that the more time and energy one puts into being in an institution, the less time and energy they will have to do things outside of the institution. So to say that one loses their individuality may not be the way to describe it, but rather their individuality becomes shaped by the institution.

    I am in a sorority on campus, and I would consider my involvement in the sorority to be average. I still have my individual interests but my life has definitely changed since joining, and I spend a lot of my time doing things for my house. My investment in my sorority is nowhere near as great as that of the President of the house, and I would argue that because she is so involved in the institution, it has probably limited her ability to develop her individual interests. In fact, it is likely that her individual interests have morphed to resemble the interests of the institution. There are also girls that are a lot less involved in the house than I am, but with that, are not often associated with the institution. Essentially, the point I’m trying to make is that I think it is not individualism vs. institution, but more of a tradeoff between the two, a matter of give and take.

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