DETENTION AND QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

Convenors: Alvise Sbraccia (University of Bologna) & Francesca Vianello (University of Padova)

Qualitative studies have played a crucial role, in the last century, in producing a critical view on total institutions. These empirical studies have revealed the paradoxes and contradictions among the criteria of legitimization of such institutions, the practices through which they reproduce themselves and the individual, and the social effects they produce. Key concepts and theoretical frameworks have been developed with reference to the complex interaction between institutional cultures and inmates subcultures, the dynamics of identity redefinition (processes of institutionalization and prisonization), the -often hidden- strategical horizons of penality, incarceration and detention in general. When, in 2002, Loïc Wacquant wrote the article titled “The curious eclipse of prison ethnography in the age of mass incarceration”, his worries were mainly related to the conservative shift in criminology and prison studies. A “political” shift oriented to reinforce, inside the university and the criminal justice system apparatus, the perspectives of an administrative criminology, finally useful for the war on crime and coherent with the ideological and juridical assumptions of Zero Tolerance and Actuarial Justice. At the times, mass incarceration was imagined by sevaral authors and scholars as a common tendency (or destiny) strictly linked with the expansion of Neoliberalism, even outside the so called western world. Such a homogeneous growth in the rates of incarceration did not take place. On the contrary, trends about detention show interesting levels of ambivalence with reference to the specific socio-economic and political conditions of the involved states and societies. Moreover, at least in the last decade, prison ethnographies and qualitative studies on detention seem to have gone through a sort of revitalization. The changing social composition of people kept in state of detention along with the central role of the different detention centers in managing new and old forms of marginality and human mobility (see the administrative detention of migrants as a form of carceral expansion) call qualitative researchers for “having a look inside” once again, observing whether these institutions adapt to the challenges they face, and how they do so. This panel is intended as a space for comparison, discussion and reflection on the perspectives of detention and incarceration. Papers are welcome with reference to the following areas of study:

  • prison ethnographies
  • systems of relations inside the total institutions
  • detention as a biographical experience
  • qualitative research on probation and alternative measures to detention
  • inmates point of view and convict criminology
  • understanding prison staff
  • qualitative analysis on recidivism and re-entry
  • institutional cultures and subcultures
  • penal treatment in its practices

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