Emotional engagements: on sinking and swimming in prison research and ethnography

Drake, Deborah H. and Sloan, Jennifer (2013). Emotional engagements: on sinking and swimming in prison research and ethnography. Criminal Justice Matters, 91(1) pp. 24–25.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09627251.2013.778755

Abstract

Undertaking in-depth, ethnographic research in prisons requires significant amounts of practical and emotional commitment. By entering the prison world, researchers are able to see a world that few others gain access to, listen to stories that are rarely heard, and ask questions that many are interested in. Whilst prison researchers might be considered ‘privileged’ in the sense that they gain access to places that are closed off from most members of the public, there is another side to the experience of prison research that is often left under-explored: the emotional trials and costs that can accompany ‘deep end’ research within the confines of the prison world. This article considers some of the emotional dimensions and challenges of prison research, arguing that, whilst it is uncomfortable and exposing for researchers to examine the emotional dimensions of research, analysis of the role emotions can play has been under-examined in prison studies, despite their importance to the research process (Yuen, 2011). We suggest that knowledge and understanding about prison life and the lived experience of imprisonment can be deepened and enriched when researchers identify and systematically process their emotions as a form of data.

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