Walking amongst the Graves of the Living: Reflections about Doing Prison Research from an Abolitionist Perspective

Scott, David (2015). Walking amongst the Graves of the Living: Reflections about Doing Prison Research from an Abolitionist Perspective. In: Drake, Deborah H.; Earle, Rod and Sloan, Jennifer eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Prison Ethnography. Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 40–58.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137403889_3

Abstract

In my time as a researcher, I have walked amongst ‘the graves of the living’ (Minshull, 1618/1821) in 16 different prisons, predominantly in the North East or North West of England. My ethnographic research has primarily focused upon prison staff and the roles they perform in profoundly immoral spaces (Scott, 1996b, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014b, 2015). Whilst prison research aims to uncover lived realities and institutional policies and practices in a hidden world, not all accounts of prison life highlight the same issues and problems. There remain significant differences in terms of how the prison place is described and analysed. Whilst there are a number of reasons why this is the case, perhaps of greatest import is the fact that all [academic] writing is subjective, and prison narratives are influenced by the values and principles of a given author. The ‘moral compass’ of the prison ethnographer is crucial in the construction of penal theory and knowledge and their priorities; aims and objectives have enormous bearing upon their interpretation of the prison world. As this chapter title indicates, the following reflections on prisons, prisoners and prison workers are written from an abolitionist perspective.

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