Clashes in Confinement: Men's Gendered Experiences with Conflict in Canadian Prisons

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Horton, Alicia
Prison , Masculinities , Qualitative Interviewing , Gender , Conflict , Violence , Sociology , Criminology , Pain of Imprisonment , Snowball Sampling , Research Ethics
This dissertation presents the results of in-depth qualitative interviews with twenty-three formerly imprisoned men regarding their lived experience with prison conflict and the pain of incarceration. The results suggest that prison is a gendered ‘total institution’ (Goffman 1961). The pains that men experience in prison are uniquely gendered in that the deprivations imposed by incarceration– deprivation of autonomy, liberty, goods and services, heterosexual sex, and security (Sykes 1958) – in the reverse, define idealized masculinity as it is currently socially constructed: self-reliance, independence, toughness or invulnerability, material and economic success, and heterosexual prowess. From these shared deprivations emerges a gendered code of conduct that perpetuates a hierarchy among incarcerated men by constructing violent masculinity as a subcultural norm. The results suggest that the gender code in prison represents a set of rules that create opportunities for men to police each other’s gender performance and make claims to masculine statuses. Because status is inextricably tied to survival in this context, many men feel pressured to perform violent masculinities in prison despite privately subscribing to a non-violent sense of self-concept. The results suggest that violence is an expressive and instrumental resource for men in prison. A gender theory of prison violence, methodological findings, theoretical implications, ethical considerations and the short and long term aftermath of violent prison conflict are discussed.
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