Home Psychology Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience
There are many different approaches to the study of masculinity/mascu- linities, which can be hugely problematic when actually trying to reach a common understanding of theoretical approach. This book comes from the following theoretical standpoint:
In addition, the multitude of different definitions of masculinity can often result in some confusion about what we actually mean by the term itself. With that in mind, I thought it wise to define exactly what is meant in this book when referring to notions of masculinity. Within this text, masculinity is posited in line with Connell’s (2005) notion: that is, a social construct. The term refers to those aspects of men’s lives that they take on to demonstrate their own maleness to others and to themselves—and it changes from man to man depending upon the expectations of the audience he is acting out his gendered self for. It is highly subjective on the one hand, but guided by underlying cultural and social expectations that run through our society on the other. As such, it is both individually and collectively formulated.
Prison is perhaps one of the best examples of a closed ‘gendered institution’—where ‘gender is present in the processes, practices, images and ideologies, and distributions of power in the various sectors of social life’ (Acker 1992: 567). All inmates are of a single sex, as are the majority of staff members, although this is changing following the advent of ‘crossposting’ in 1982 (see Tait 2008: 64). Much existing work takes gender for granted rather than an aspect of identity that is constantly in flux and constructed over the lifespan (Hollway 1989).1 The process by which an inmate will interpret and perform his own masculine identity will also be directly affected by his relationships: the forming of one’s identity is a consequence of experiences had with others and the context of the observing ‘audience’ and how they are interpreted, whether these ‘others’ are family, friends, foes, or complete strangers.
Where research on masculinity in prison has been done (see the work of Yvonne Jewkes, Ben Crewe, and Coretta Phillips, to name but three), it is often masculinity-in-combination: rather than placing masculinity in the spotlight, other themes of importance are highlighted and foregrounded, such as race, power, or experience. Whilst these are significant and salient issues, this approach runs the risk of sidelining the ultimate connector of everyone in male prisons in favour of variables that differentiate.
Relationships between staff and inmates have been widely investigated and documented (Liebling and Price 1999; Liebling and Arnold 2004; Crawley 2004; Crewe 2006a), as has the concept of the prison culture and correctional communities in early works from the USA (Clemmer 1958; Sykes 1958; Irwin and Cressey 1962; Simon 2000). What has not 
been greatly considered is the relationship between the male inmate and his identity and how this affects how male individuals interact with others and how they experience and interpret imprisonment. The issue has been looked at somewhat in reverse: coping strategies for the painful experiences of imprisonment that include various social strategies have been given some thought (Sykes 1956; Clemmer 1958; Sykes and Messinger I960; Stanko 2001; Reuss 2003; Wilson 2004; Crewe 2005a), along with theories of conformity to inmate codes and existing social structures (Wheeler 1961; Irwin and Cressey 1962; Jacobs 1974) ; however, this fails to recognise how distinct relationships play a role in both defining and coping with the experience of imprisonment on both an interpersonal and an internal gendered level (there tends to be a focus upon the interrelation of individual relationships to form an overall social system [Garabedian 1963]). In addition, the majority of this research is dated and so somewhat obsolete in the modern English and Welsh penal estate when considering the temporal and geographical fluctuations in societal composition and values. By considering such issues in the modern penal context, a better understanding of men and their interactions and performances has been achieved, which enables a better understanding of male behaviours on individual and collective bases.
In addition to looking into masculinities and crime, this study looks at masculine identity on a wider scale from a female perspective, through the eyes of a female researcher. This is a concept rarely considered in wider criminological study, where the historical tradition has been for male academics to study male penal institutions (Propper 1989: 57), the concept of masculinity being lost to the realm of ‘obviousness’. Many describe the prison setting as being a male space (Bandyopadhyay 2006; Evans and Wallace 2008), fitting into the sphere that is ‘historically developed by men, currently dominated by men, and symbolically interpreted from the standpoint of men in leading positions, both in the present and historically’ (Acker 1992: 567). Yet, masculinity is a particularly consequential concept in the process of discussing incarcerated men: for many, it is ‘illegitimate’ expressions of this masculinity that have resulted in their incarceration in the first place.
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