While “institution” is a word that has come to have negative connotations over the years – being associated with prisons, madhouses and the like – they are larger representations of a community. Institutions are not just penitentiaries; they are schools, hospitals, community centers, homes.
In World War Z, for example, after the zombie threat had been neutralized, the citizens were concerned with rebuilding their homes and the lives from before. It meant that they, human beings, had survived and would continue to do so. During our discussion of World War Z the question was brought up as to why people were choosing to rebuild governments that had essentially failed them. The answer is a simple one; humanity was already traumatized enough, the pressure of seriously looking at the government, redesigning and rebuilding it from scratch was not nearly as important. When people in North America started rebuilding, it was the white-collar upper classes who needed to be taught to do the blue-collar work, which was suddenly an incredibly valued skill set. Humanity as a whole wasn’t up to the task of rebuilding an entirely new institution, they needed the comfort of the familiar and so began to rebuild what they‘d previously had. In rebuilding institutions, people are regaining their sense of community, the idea that “We’re okay. We survived, and we will keep surviving until we thrive.”
This sense “we” – of being part of a social structure – is important as human beings are by their nature social creatures. Even the Byronic hero of the Gothic tales or the Lone Cowboy of The Walking Dead are individual figures who are part of the structure. They live on the fringes of society but are never completely outside it, giving them an a sense of intrigue and danger while promising that they can still be part of the group, or even in charge of it, when needed.