EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P051)

Prison ethnographies, research intimacies and social change

Location M-340
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Ines Hasselberg (University of Oxford) email
Carolina Boe (AAU, Denmark) email
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Short Abstract

This panel reflects on the particular challenges of conducting anthropological studies in and of prison establishments. Paying particular attention to matters of positionality, access and personal engagement it explores the dynamics of intimacy and collaboration in prison ethnographies.

Long Abstract

This panel reflects on the particular challenges of conducting anthropological studies in and of prison establishments. Paying particular attention to matters of positionality, access and personal engagement it explores the dynamics of intimacy and collaboration in prison ethnographies. Prisons are not just spaces of confinement, they are spaces where legitimacy, punishment, justice and deprivation take expression in daily life - where such concepts are lived, experienced and contested, not just by prisoners themselves but also by others involved in their life as officers, staff and family members. Research in and of spaces of punishment is thus likely to be intense regarding sensorial and embodied experiences. Furthermore, conducting research in prison will demand not just the collaboration of the research participants themselves, but also of other entities as prison services or civil society groups. The kind of access that the researcher is granted in prison will in effect influence the engagement she will have with people within and the collaborations that are possible, necessary or even inevitable to the research process - what impact do these bear in the production of knowledge? What happens when the different actors (prisoners, staff, policymakers, civil society) work together or against one another to bring about sociopolitical change? In what ways do emotions and senses affect how prison life is perceived and embodied? How to make sense of the emotional connections and collaborations established in such contexts? We invite empirical contributions and critical discussions that address these issues from diverse standpoints and geographical contexts.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Reflections on ethnography from within Brazilian prisons

Author: Laura Ordóñez (Universidad del Rosario )  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork conducted between 2004 and 2009, this paper explores the challenges, limits and possibilities about ethnographic fieldwork in Brazilian prisons and their implications in the production of contemporary knowledge within anthropology.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the challenges, limits and possibilities inherent in prison ethnographies and their contribution to the contemporary methodological reflections about ethnography as a cornerstone to anthropological knowledge. Based on fieldwork conducted between 2004 and 2009 in three "common system" women's prisons in the city of Brasilia and three "alternative" prisons in the State of Minas Gerais (known as APACs by their Portuguese acronyms) I explore the political, social and academic importance of conduction ethnographies within prisons. After all, these constitute the nucleus of contemporary punitive systems, which makes their study a contribution to the research on public security and criminal policy.

Prisons, taken as both microuniverses embedded in their own internal dynamics, and as key locations where the social, political and cultural process of a globalized world transect, offer researchers dilemmas on spaces of hyper surveillance, and put forth methodological and theoretical questions that are central to contemporary anthropological inquiry. These include reflections about researchers' access to penal institutions and inmates, their transit between physical and symbolic spaces of social control, multiple relations and positionalities in the field, and the tensions between diverse actors, ethical-political points of view, personal and disciplinary motivations for research in prisons and, ultimately, the impact of such studies and their potentiality for the transformation of social realities.

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Gaining access to and within the prison

Authors: Irene Marti (University of Bern)  email
Ueli Hostettler (University of Bern)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork on end-of-life in Swiss prisons, this paper will present experiences in conducting ethnographic research in the prison by adopting or being ascribed different roles. A special focus will be on the institutional influence regarding the production of knowledge.

Long Abstract

Doing ethnographic fieldwork in prison is connected to specific challenges since this institution can be considered as a "closed" and "sensitive" field. Therefore, gaining access to the field is crucial and closely related to different roles the researcher will take intentionally or be ascribed by others (e.g. a visitor during official prison tours, an independent researcher entering the prison from the outside, or a prison employee or staff researcher).

In the context of an on-going research project on end-of-life in Swiss prisons financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation, insight into the experiences of a researcher is provided. She obtained access to the prison in the role of a researcher doing an "internship" as prison officer. As a formal intern, the researcher was allowed to do research while being integrated in day-to-day work as staff. However, experience often oscillated between dependency (as quasi-employee) and self-determination (as independent researcher coming from outside) opening a host of questions - practical and ethical. These challenges will be highlighted.

The first part is based on fieldnotes recorded during field trips in two medium security prisons in Switzerland and addresses the organisation of the fieldwork by the prison authorities (physical access, tasks as intern, and norms of conduct, etc.). The second part will discuss institutional influence on data collection and the researcher's agency and strategies with a special focus on the how trust between researcher and prisoners is established within this strongly hierarchized context where social relationships are characterized by a default mutual distrust.

Researching the "cemetery of the living": on the limits of immersion and collaboration in a Nicaraguan prison

Author: Julienne Weegels (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research)  email

Short Abstract

When inmates deal with the effects of their social disposability on a daily basis, how does one cope with one's own position as an inside-outsider or outside-insider vis-à-vis both guards and inmates? When denial of access is an ever-lingering threat, how does one deal with issues of representation?

Long Abstract

Conducting prison research positions the ethnographer at the heart of a field of struggles from the outset. Issues of access, consent, knowledge sharing and personal engagement constantly impose themselves on and become enmeshed with the research process. It has been more than four years since I first set foot in a Nicaraguan prison to research meanings of violence and practices of change. Starting out assisting a theatre director - also my husband - my involvement gradually evolved into leading cultural programs for the prison's re-educational department. Our experience with (ex) gang members on the street made it easy to 'side' with the prisoners at first, but our organization's position as the only provider of cultural programs under re-education brought about a larger social commitment to the prison itself, and subsequent conflicts over respect, immersion, and freedom of expression surfaced. An - on paper - progressive re-educational system namely does not equal impeccable treatment and does not mean 'outsiders' are not worked against. When inmates deal with the effects of their social disposability social death on a daily basis, how does one cope with one's own position as an inside-outsider or outside-insider vis-à-vis both guards and inmates? When denial of access is an ever-lingering threat, how one deal with issues of immersion and representation? This paper intends to sketch how the ways in which prison research depends on (limited) permission to access the research group leads to direct conflicts of immersion, collaboration, and representation.

See you in prison, then

Author: Silvia Vignato (Università Milano-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

This paper concerns a work in progress where the anthropologist’s former research-assistant resumes her role after being sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for drug trafficking. It shows how the proess of accessing prison can throw new light on a larger research.

Long Abstract

Why does a brilliant, 26 year-old Acehenese woman resort to drug dealing? Why does a 50 year-old anthropologist unexpectedly turns towards the ethnography of prison?

Both question are answered through a gendered analyses of a post-conflict situation in developing Indonesia as well as through the password of "love".

This paper attempts to put the two into the same analytical frame. It concerns a work in progress where the anthropologist's former research-assistant resumes her role after being sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for drug trafficking. It shows how the proess of accessing prison can throw new light on a larger research. The intricacies of Indonesian bureaucracy and the frustrated efforts of a group of well-meaning civil servants give an insight of the functioning of a big Indonesian city such as Medan. Similarly, the feeling of loneliness of a non-Medanese prisoner evokes the weight of the city even within the walls of its prison.

The paper pays special attention to the hypertrophic role that the encounter plays when the research develops in a restricted place. For a classical anthropologist raised in awe of "the ethnographic context", the programmatic lack of the latter raises a methodological problem as it is difficult to cross-control the information.

The challenges of conducting research in Swedish detention centers

Authors: Sofia Rönnqvist (Malmö institute for studies of migration, diversity and welfare)  email
Karin Magnusson (Malmö University)  email

Short Abstract

This will explore the methodological challenges we encountered doing participant observations and interviews in detention centers in Sweden. The fieldwork was conducted as part of a study financed by the European Return Fund on migrants’ experience of forced return.

Long Abstract

This project, co-financed by the European Return Fund, focuses on four stages of the deportation process: i) the decision, ii) time spent in detention center, iii) the deportation, iv) arrival in origin country. The research follows a person-centered methodology whereby the focus is on cultural practices (how things are being done) rather than normative (how they are 'meant' to be done) in a bid to discover the migrants' experience of forced return.

In this paper we will explore the methodological challenges we encountered doing participant observations and interviews in detention centers in Sweden.

Firstly, there were a number of practical considerations when getting access to detention centers. Detention centers present a particular prison establishment where the migrants in Sweden on average only spend 11 days.

This particular situation gave the researcher a short period of time to form a relationship/trust with the interviewees. Building a relationship was crucial since the research method requires that the migrants stay in touch with the researcher after deportation to share their experiences of the return journey and arrival.

This paper will also discuss the dynamics of intimacy in the detention setting. The migrants' situation of imprisonment before their forced return puts them in an extremely vulnerable position, which also affects the researcher both emotionally and methodologically.

In conclusion, this paper illuminates the specificities of research in detention centers as well as more general challenges when conducting research of imprisoned individuals.

Between care and punishment: ethnographies of secure units for compulsory care in Sweden

Author: Kim Silow Kallenberg (Södertörn University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the paradox of secure units as being institutions of both care and punishment. The paper also addresses issues of conducting research in closed environments: ethical questions, self-reflexivity and positionality.

Long Abstract

The secure units for compulsory care of delinquent youth in Sweden pose a complicated, yet interesting, environment for ethnographic research. Just like prisons, secure units make up a closed environment and the people living there are not free to come and go as they please. But secure units are also facilities for care that are aimed at helping those in need. Treatment in the form of various behavioral therapies is conducted with the purpose of creating well-functioning citizens out of the "youth delinquents". It is precisely this paradoxical status of these institutions—that is, as being institutions for both care and punishment—that this paper shall discuss. Special attention shall be paid to the ways in which the staff is handling this paradox. Additionally, the paper shall discuss issues concerning the researcher's possibilities of gaining access to a field characterized by compulsion and punishment. The ongoing process of self-reflexivity and positionality will be explored, particularly in relation to the ethical dimension of research in a field of uneven power relations. I will argue that ethnographies of prisons or other closed environments should be viewed as research possibilities rather than problems. Fieldwork in closed environments force the researcher to continually face issues of power, knowledge and research position.

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The prison house: domesticity under arrest

Author: Michał Murawski (SSEES )  email

Short Abstract

What happens to the everyday aesthetics and materiality of domestic life when the state turns a subject’s home into a prison? Or when an outlaw fearing custody turns an extraterritorial space such as an embassy into a home?

Long Abstract

This paper lays out the parameters of a research project, which examines the manner in which the everyday aesthetics and materiality of the home intersect with the punitive apparatus of the state. Collecting core data on the cases of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, this study will focus on two categories of state-home interaction: (i) house arrest, where the law incarcerates a subject within their own domestic space; (ii) and diplomatic asylum, where an outlaw fearing incarceration turns an extraterritorial domain such as an Embassy into a home.

Although house arrest and diplomatic asylum are ancient practices, they have acquired radical new forms during recent decades, under the impact of shifting sovereignty regimes and sophisticated surveillance and monitoring technologies. Nevertheless, their study has remained the preserve of legal scholarship and applied criminology, and no significant work has been carried out on everyday domesticity under sovereign confinement. This paper considers recent anthropological literatures on: the impact of state bodies and economic systems on the material culture and aesthetics of dwelling (Buchli 2000, Navaro-Yashin 2012, Miller 2012); and on the relationship between sovereignty - in its 'statist' (Ssorin- Chaikov 2008, Grant 2009) as well as 'outsourced' modes (Aretxaga 2003, Hansen and Stepputat 2005, Ong 2006, Wacquant 2009) - and cultures of incarceration, exile and resistance. It lays out working premises for an ethnographic study of the prison-house, a nodal terrain on which the macro- and micro-dynamics of state power converge with the everyday intimacies of domestic life.

Doing research about the prison system as a prisoner's relative: participant observation and academic legitimacy

Author: Gwenola Ricordeau  email

Short Abstract

My paper assesses my experience as a prisoner's relative and a scholar involved in prison studies in France for more than ten years. I address the questions raised by my position as an insider when conceptualizing my research, conducting fieldwork and disseminating the results of my research.

Long Abstract

My paper assesses my experience as a prisoners' relative and a scholar involved in prison studies since more than ten years in France. My research has been based on information I gathered both as a prisoners' relative and a sociologist conducting fieldwork among prisoners and prisoners' relatives. My experience of being an insider led me:

[1] to center my analyze on visiting rooms rather than on cells and on the visitors and the prisoners' relatives rather than on the prisoners themselves;

[2] to question the traditional academic focus on (male) prisoners that has overviewed the (female) prisoners' relatives and that echoes how the prison studies are themselves gendered;

[3] to reflect on how the auto-ethnographic part of my work has been pivotal for my analysis.

My paper mainly addresses two questions:

[1] Are the methodological and ethical questions raised by being an insider in prison studies specific to this field of research?

[2] Why auto-ethnography is so rare and often aggressively challenged in prison studies?

My discussion of these two questions is organized around the successive steps of research (conceptualizing research, conducting fieldwork, disseminating results). I elaborate from my insider position on the reflections conducted by Becker (1967) and Liebling (2001) about "taking side" in prison studies. I also analyze the academic reception of my research and the suspicion of "being biased" that I routinely face.

Studying Islam in French prisons: reflections on a challenging fieldwork

Author: Jules Hervault (IEP Rennes)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ongoing study about Islam in French penitentiaries, this paper proposes a reflection on the methodological difficulties added to an inevitably challenging fieldwork in prison, due to the specific nature of the subject studied.

Long Abstract

Based on an ongoing study about Islam in French penitentiaries, this paper proposes a reflection on the methodological difficulties added to an inevitably challenging fieldwork in prison, due to the specific nature of the subject studied.

First of all, one's religious experience can be a rather intimate subject, which makes it difficult to broach with some inmates, many of whom proved reluctant to open up or struggled to develop a reflexive discourse.

Furthermore, Islam permeates many aspects of the daily life in ways that are hard to perceive through interviews only, but that one can grasp through observation. Such characteristics makes it especially difficult to study in prisons since there are often considerable limitations to what a social scientist is able to observe in such institutions.

Most importantly, due to the automatic association of this research subject with the issue of radicalization, working on Islam in prisons raises suspicion regarding the purpose of the inquiry, from both detainees and staff members. This was particularly true when I started doing fieldwork in detention, only a few months after the Toulouse and Montauban shootings brought media attention on the issue of radical Islam in French prisons and made many French Muslims fear an increased stigmatization of their community. My paper will therefore highlight how the sensitivity of this subject complicated my relations with actors on the field and will present the strategies I developed to get around these difficulties as well as the consequences of such strategies on collected datas.

Confounding borders and walls: documents, letters and the governance of relationships in São Paulo and Barcelona prisons

Author: Natália Corazza Padovani (Universidade Estadual de Campinas - UNICAMP)  email

Short Abstract

Letters and documents tell of events in the lives of Spanish women arrested in São Paulo, and Brazilian women arrested in Barcelona. In this paper, I analyze letters and documents as products of family and transnational relationships maintained with people and places in and outside prison.

Long Abstract

Spanish women arrested in São Paulo, and Brazilian women arrested in Barcelona, often carry letters and documents in folders, plastic bags and envelopes, well protected in pockets, purses or knapsacks. The papers tell of events in the lives of these women, and provide clues and legibility to relationships maintained with people and places outside prison. In this paper, I analyze how letters and documents are products of family and transnational relationships that they can also produce. The paper looks at how they are used as evidence of families and loving relationships that each day are evaluated, and recognized or rejected, by public safety authorities, prison wardens, prosecutors, public defenders, consulates and immigration police. The letters and documents tell stories that are used to substantiate the deportation or immigration of Spanish women imprisoned in São Paulo and Brazilian women imprisoned in Barcelona.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.