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Home arrow Psychology arrow Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience


This chapter adds to the existing academic debate regarding relationships in prison through the detailed consideration of the importance of masculinity as the central tenet in such interactions. Whereas great consideration has been given to the manifestation and implications of relationships with prisoners and staff, this is rarely seen through the lens of the men’s masculine selves and how these identities are shaped as a result of such interactions (which links back to the dimensions of spectacle and spectator in Chapter. 3), and as a result of this highly present male audience. The importance of the male collective as an audience for gendered behaviours and the negotiation of individuals’ personal masculinities was evident in interviews, as was the harmful nature of the prisoner identity upon the structure and stability of friendships and interactions in prison. The types of men that individuals wanted to become (i.e. nonprisoners) placed other prisoners as risks to individuals’ abilities to differentiate and distinguish themselves from such negative masculine signifiers—friends tended to be seen as those individuals who had scope beyond the prison and thus transcended the prison institution as an audience.

The men could clearly be seen to change their personal performances of self, according to the audience at the time. Such relational signifiers of masculine self, extending from outside the prison, could regularly be referred to as a source of differentiation from the prisoner collective, and thus provide a means through which to assert one’s masculine independence and individuality.

Relationships are a powerful means through which individuals are able to shape and perform their masculinities. This occurs both in positive ways, through who they want to be seen to be in the present and the future; and in the negative, in terms of who they do not want to be seen as, and how they must undergo identity management in order to restrict the degree of harm they experience. Such identity management generally requires individuals to distance themselves both from illegitimate masculine performativity (particularly if they wish to achieve legitimate future masculine identities), and from situations in which they may be assessed as being weak or vulnerable (and thus potentially having to resort to such illegitimate means in order to assert toughness and hardness). It is to the concept of vulnerability and its formal management that we now turn.

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