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Home arrow Psychology arrow 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:

  • 1. Following Connell’s work (2005), this book conforms to the idea of hegemonic masculinities—that being the idea that masculinity fluctuates in different times and spaces, yet there is always a hegemonic position to which other men aspire. Men compete against each other for masculine achievement.
  • 2. At the same time, it is recognised that there is not one single masculinity—instead we follow Connell again to think in terms of pluralities of masculinities.
  • 3- These masculinities are embodied and performed: gender is seen as a social construction, which is created in relation to the genders of others (Connell 2005); masculinity is a process which is ‘done’ (West and Zimmerman 1987; Butler 1990).
  • 4. Such performances and embodiments are achieved through the resources available to that individual against which to relate his masculine self. Such resources include personal corporeality, other people and their genders and bodies, consumable goods, money, positions of power, and so on.
  • 5- Crime is a resource through which to perform masculinity, generally when other, more socially legitimate and approved resources are unavailable to that individual (Messerschmidt 1993: 84).
  • 6. These performances are directed towards an audience. Kimmel (1994) suggests that masculine identity is enacted for the benefit of other men and in order to receive some form of approval from the male collective. This definition is of particular value when considering the prison environment, where men are situated close to other men (both prisoners and staff) and alter their behaviours for the benefit of what others can see, and who those others are. In this book, I argue that there are others that the individual sees to be important as audiences in the masculine performance, not just other men.
  • 7- The audience that matters to an individual at a particular point in their life is subject to change; as such, the performances of masculinity may also change in response to the different people who matter that are watching him.
  • 8. Such performances are subject to particular challenges in the prison through a lack of performative resources available to the men, along with the feminising processes that the prison imposes.

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 [1]

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.

  • [1] Sadly, the majority of work that does directly engage with masculinity in the criminal justice system is left at the MA/PhD stage (Aresti 2010 ; Bell 2012; Butler 2007; Hefner 2009; Moolman2011; de Viggiani 2003; Whitehead 2000 for instance). There is a clear question to be asked aboutwhy such promising studies rarely continue beyond the doctoral stage—it is clear that there is notenough value being placed upon this topic to encourage early year researchers to continue along theresearch path.
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