The use of media in constructing identities in the masculine environment of men’s prisons

Jewkes, Y.A. (2002). The use of media in constructing identities in the masculine environment of men’s prisons. European Journal of Communication, 17(2) pp. 205–225.




This article explores the importance of media forms and content within a unique context: the prison. Although - in common with other studies of media use among prisoners - it is inspired by the uses and gratifications tradition, this study refines and develops the approach, synthesizing it with Giddens's theory of structuration and Bourdieu's notion of habitus in order to understand not only patterns of media consumption in prisons, but also to gain insight into the relationship between media, identity and power. Structuration theory is viewed as an important counter to the prison deprivation literature, the central tenet of which is that imprisonment is an inherently painful and dehumanizing experience during which the prisoner suffers a series of deprivations that fundamentally weaken his or her sense of identity. While this study supports the view that prisons are essentially mortifying environments, it nevertheless endorses Giddens's belief that subordinates are never entirely powerless even in the most bounded of locales. Indeed, this article presents evidence to show that the mass media provide a key source of empowerment for the confined, offering a range of material from which they can create new identities or maintain pre-existing identities, explore their inner selves, form subgroups based on collective fanship, and find autonomy and self-respect in otherwise humiliating and disidentifying circumstances.

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