Prison ethnography at the threshold of race, reflexivity and difference

Earle, Rod and Phillips, Coretta (2015). Prison ethnography at the threshold of race, reflexivity and difference. In: Earle, Rod; Drake, Deborah and Sloan, Jennifer eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Prison Ethnography. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 230–251.




This chapter considers the racialised dynamics of ethnographic research in two men's prisons in South East England. From the early scene-setting descriptions and evocations of life in a young offenders' institution and a Category C prison, to the more sustained period of immersion in everyday life inside, the unfolding research process revealed insights into the vertical (prison officer-prisoner) and horizontal (prisoner-prisoner) race and social relations in the prison field. The 'characters' of Abbott, Switch, Warwick, Jonathan and others, emerged in rounded form only through an ethnographic approach that combined processes of observation, interaction and interview. Accessed reflexively through the lens of our own diverse biographical identities, we illustrate, using several examples, the realities and multiple dimensions of contemporary racisms and how these coincide with vibrant postcolonial convivialities.

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