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The Prisoner Collective

As has been seen, the presence of the female researcher had implications for the prisoner collective in terms of its position as an audience for individual acts of masculine performance. In addition, however, the prisoner collective provided individual prisoners with behavioural and other gendered norms and expectations that could be used to demonstrate masculine proficiency. This is done through the symbolic force of the male gaze of other prisoners upon the individual—in fact, such gendered expectations are rarely openly expressed by members of the collective to others, but instead are anticipated, internalised, and generally self-policed by individuals who fear repercussions from failure to achieve masculine status:

Kai: Do you know what I mean it’s hard to go, you can go to certain individuals I think and say, you know this is how I’m feeling, what do you think I should do about this, and they turn round and laugh at you, what you fucking talking about ei? You’re your own man, do it this way or do it that way, you know it’s not like.. .it’s totally different to, to a therapeutic environment where you can go to anybody in that environment and say this is how I’m feeling, this is what’s going through me head, what do you think I should be doing? And they’ll offer you support in, in a proper way but here you can’t, you’re just seen as a weak person if you did that here, do you know what I mean

Such policing is highly dependent upon which audience actually matters and imposes policing credentials that the individual may wish to act upon. Only in extreme cases will individuals’ gendered failures be physically policed, such as in the punishment of crimes that can be seen to undermine masculine values (such as sexual offences, particularly against vulnerable victims like children who men see as in need of [masculine] protection), or in the cases where one individual’s failure to act according to masculine norms could result in another being seen as weak by association (such as where an individual fails to pay his debts to another prisoner, thereby requiring some form of punishment so that the dominance of the lender is assured and proven for the view of others). As such, it is the internalised collective gaze that shapes individual norms and actions—the threat of being reprimanded and rejected by the collective through which a shared identity and element of protection is established, and acting up to perceived expectations of masculinity as a coping strategy to enhance personal visibility to those who matter most to that man at that particular point in time in his life.

The triangulation of these three elements of the research gives particular insight into the nature of gendered identities as performed for the benefit of others in order to protect the self. Both the individual prisoner and the prisoner collective shaped the researcher’s gendered identity—the individual through interaction and manipulation and the collective through the researcher’s pre-emptive gendered and gender-led actions and interactive behaviours and expectations. The researcher, as a female, impacted upon individual prisoners in their gendered performances for the benefit of the collective of males they needed to survive within. The researcher also affected the collective male population by providing a heteronormative spectacle for (and spectator of) masculine identity performances. Individual prisoners act in public spaces for the benefit of other prisoners’ collective gendered expectations, which actually emanate from, and are internalised by, individuals themselves rather than being regularly policed by the prisoner group. The individual acts for, symbolically creates, and is in turn shaped by the ‘expectations’ that are posited upon the collective male prisoner group. In turn, the collective feeds off the individual gendered expectations and norms that comprise it, policing those breaches of masculinity that could be seen to be harmful to the reputation of the group as ‘positive’ men—those who do not fulfil the general masculine norms of independence, self-sufficiency, hardness, protector (i.e. of the family), and so on are either physically (through violence), mentally (through threats, bullying, or intimidation), or symbolically (through distancing and the undermining of masculine i dentity) punished for their indiscretions. Such masculine traits clearly pervade the prison setting, running throughout the daily lives and aspirations of individual prisoners seeking to achieve masculine status, as will be seen in the following chapters.

Such a triangulation not only addresses the issues around the male prison experience and the interactions experienced (and observed) between prisoners within the prison context, but also highlights the gendered nature of the prison context and the manners in which gendered identities (both of the male prisoner[s] and the female researcher) are performed and policed according to the particular audience, which itself has a highly gendered dimension. In addition to gender, ‘race, class, and age’ (Schwalbe and Wolkomir 2001: 91), and non-prisoner/prison staff status may also have played a part in the determination of the audience available for the gendered performance (see also Gadd and Jefferson 2007), yet these can also hide the masculinities at the very heart of offending, or the place of offending in the construction of masculinities. Performances occur throughout the male population, transcending the majority of demographic variables and differentials; rather, they are shaped by who the individual man sees to be the audience that matters most to him, and that audience’s expectations.

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