By Paul Oliver
Foucault devoted considerable time to researching the impact of institutions on society and the lives of individuals. He was interested in the power and influence that they exerted, and also in the fact that some people simply could not avail themselves of the services provided by institutions because they could not understand the systems within which they operated. In such cases institutions can deprive people of their personal freedom and autonomy. In circumstances where individual citizens cannot successfully interact with institutions, then they can easily become alienated from them, and moreover alienated from society in general. Institutions are often set up ostensibly to provide services to individual members of society, but there can often be a mismatch between the needs of individuals and the services provided by the state. Foucault felt that there was an implicit contract between the individual and the state, such that the individual would be loyal to the state, while the latter, via its institutions, would protect and provide for its citizens. He noted in particular the conflicts in the provision of health care, where the aspirations of patients could not always be met by the state. This was particularly so where the knowledge and technology existed to help patients, yet the finite resources of the state meant that choices had to be made in terms of making different sorts of treatment available.
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