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Working Time: Working Men

Tolson posits the male working identity as being a form of entry into a sphere of maleness:

For every man, the outcome of his socialization is his entry into work. His first day at work signifies his ‘initiation’ into the secretive, conspiratorial solidarity of working men. Through working, a boy, supposedly, ‘becomes a man’: he earns money, power, and personal independence from his family. (1977: 47)

Willis also comments on the interaction of work and masculinities, particularly manual labour, which is seen to be more masculine in comparison to ‘mental work’:

Manual labour is suffused with masculine qualities and given certain sensual overtones for ‘the lads’. The toughness and awkwardness of physical work and effort — for itself and in the division of labour and for its strictly capitalist logic quite without intrinsic heroism or grandeur — takes on masculine lights and depths and assumes a significance beyond itself. Whatever the specific problems, so to speak, of the difficult task they are always essentially masculine problems. It takes masculine capacities to deal with them.

(1977: 150)

Within the prison setting, men were given the opportunity to use their time to work. During the period of research, I observed men gardening, cleaning (a lot), serving food, picking litter, disposing of waste, and painting: in this last case, painters were obvious because they ‘wore’ the evidence of their trade on their clothes and bodies. In addition, there were opportunities to work in kitchens, the packing shop, motorcycle maintenance, the laundry, and so on. Men also did voluntary work at times, particularly when it came to helping others who were in need, such as on the toe-to-toe scheme to help prisoners to learn to read. Many opportunities for work were situated within what outside prison would be viewed as the domestic realm, and men’s inside working identities arguably fell within what would usually be the feminine sphere, thereby placing men in a fragile gendered balance of female work being situated against masculine ‘worker’ identities (see Sloan 2012a, b and 2015 for more discussion on this).

Clemmer (1958) notes that there are various motives for undertaking employment within prison—profit, its social functions, prestige, and physical and mental health. In this research, work was seen as a source of money, a way to use time and get out of the cell, a way to stay active, a form of relaxation, and a way to build a routine and take control of time—all of which point towards its importance in the masculine performance and men’s working towards advancing their status for particular audiences. The problems of transition in employment between the prison and the outside world, however, were noted:

Noah: .. .so the way I look at it, the further you come, you know, the nearer you come,

the more I should be like, you working [.]in that sort of outside environment, you know. That’s like, you go to work between eight and nine [.] whereas here we go to work between nine and half past, you know, and then you finish at half past eleven, you know, have your hour and a half, two hours sometimes for your lunch, and then you have two hours at work in the afternoon. And that’s, you know, to me that’s supposed to be preparing me for work outside

Work, therefore, clearly played a major role in the way that many participants used their time and framed their identities as men in and out of the prison, in terms of who they had been, who they currently were, and who they could be, aspired to become, or felt they were inevitably going to be (see also Sloan forthcoming).

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