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Home arrow Psychology arrow Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience

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Summary

This chapter has given consideration to a broad range of aspects of the corporeal identities and contexts of prisoners on both individual and collective levels. Whereas the majority of academic discourse regarding prisoner identity tends to disregard masculinity as a central variable, analysis of the areas of relevance that emerged revealed maleness to be fundamental. The centrality of the male corporeal identity as an independent influence in individual (and collective) prisoner performances, rather than being encumbered by other variables, allows prisoner behaviours to be situated within the wider sphere of masculine demonstration. Rather than resorting to processes of fragmentation through categorisation of various identity typologies as many have done before, the use of masculinity as a single analytical lens through which to understand various forms of identity negotiation within the prison has actually had the opposite effect, bringing various different types of men in prison together in terms of the similarities in their behaviours and bodies with reference to male identity.

Performances were constantly occurring within the prison as men tried to take control over the types of men they wished to be seen as, often using literal performances of masculine signifiers drawing upon masculine signposts that transcended the prison situation, such as wealth, control (as Jewkes pointed to with reference to the body [2002: 19], and can be seen in terms of the way men used their bodies as indicators of male toughness and strength through muscles, tattoos, clothing, and so on), fatherhood, virility, work, and masculine cultural stereotypes. Prisoners can be said to perform their identities for the benefit of others—being oneself was found to be a highly elaborate matter, underpinned with requirements to undertake managed and normative behaviours, front, hide weaknesses, and prove masculinity (particularly earlier in an individual’s life).

Masculine identities and their bodily signifiers were of high importance and relevance to identities and contexts within the prison sphere. The body was the key mechanism through which to demonstrate masculine self—be that how it was used to perform the gendered self, how it was mastered and defined either through muscles or markings, or how it was enrobed in costume. Yet all of these masculine processes sit in tension with the fact that such performances within the prison are generally for the benefit of other men, disrupting heteronormative conceptions of the male gaze—in other contexts such behaviours and practices would be placed within the realm of the homoerotic. Despite this tension, such aspects of corporeal masculinity were ingrained in the very essences of these individuals, and were central to their identities in the past, present, and future spheres.

 
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