Resistance or Friction?

Resistance as Agency? Incorporating the Structural Determinants of Prisoner Behaviour (British Journal of Criminology, forthcoming)

Recent research in prison sociology has described prisoners’ resistance as an exercise of agency within restrictive settings. This study argues that the emphasis on agency has obscured the role of other factors that contribute to prisoner behaviour, including structure. Using an historical case study, I illustrate several ways in which prisoners’ friction and resistance are not only reactions against the prison regime, but are also enabled, constructed, and shaped by it. This study produces a two-dimensional framework that locates friction and resistance within a nexus of agency and structure. Incorporating structural determinants of prisoner behaviour, while recognizing the role of agency, allows a fuller, more accurate understanding of prisoner behaviour.

 

Resistance or Friction: Understanding the Significance of Prisoners’ Secondary Adjustments (Theoretical Criminology, 2015)

SCHOLARS EXAMINING PRISONERS’ “SECONDARY ADJUSTMENTS” HAVE OFTEN EMPHASIZED PRISONERS’ “RESISTANCE” TO THE PRISON REGIME, PARTICULARLY THEIR AGENTIC ACTS THAT FRUSTRATE THE PRISON’S RULES, GOALS, OR FUNCTIONS. WHILE THESE AGENCY-CENTERED ACCOUNTS OFFER AN IMPORTANT CORRECTIVE TO THE UNDERSTANDING OF PRISONS AS TOTALIZING INSTITUTIONS, THEY MAY GO TOO FAR. I ARGUE THAT SCHOLARS HAVE OVERUSED (AND MISUSED) THE TERM “RESISTANCE” TO DESCRIBE CERTAIN PRISONER BEHAVIORS, CREATING BOTH ANALYTICAL AND NORMATIVE CONSEQUENCES. INSTEAD, I SUGGEST THE CONCEPT OF “FRICTION” MORE ACCURATELY DESCRIBES THE REACTIVE BEHAVIORS THAT OCCUR WHEN PEOPLE FIND THEMSELVES IN HIGHLY CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENTS.

 

The Consequences of Prisoners’ Micro-Resistance (Law & Social Inquiry, forthcoming)

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF MICRO-RESISTANCE TO LEGALITY IN THE PRISON CONTEXT? USING ARCHIVAL DATA FROM PHILADELPHIA’S EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY (1829–1875), I EXAMINE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NONCOMPLIANT PRISONER BEHAVIOR FOR THE PRISONERS THEMSELVES AND THE PRISON REGIME. I SUGGEST THAT PRISONERS’ NONCOMPLIANCE OFTEN ENTAILED SUBSTANTIAL COSTS TO PRISONERS, PARTICULARLY IN COMPARISON TO THE SUBSTANTIAL BENEFITS OF COMPLYING WITH THE PRISON REGIME. I ALSO SUGGEST THAT PRISONER NONCOMPLIANCE DID NOT HAVE A SINGLE SET OF POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES FOR THE PRISON REGIME, BUT RATHER HAD VARIABLE SIGNIFICANCE BECAUSE DIFFERENT ACTORS USED EPISODES OF NONCOMPLIANCE FOR THEIR OWN GOALS, SUPPORTING OR CRITICIZING THE PRISON.
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