Stuck in separation: Liminality, graffiti arts and the forensic institution as a failed rite of passage

McGrath, Laura; Mighetto, Isabella; Liebert, Rachel Jane and Wakeling, Ben (2021). Stuck in separation: Liminality, graffiti arts and the forensic institution as a failed rite of passage. Sociology of Health and Illness, 43(6) pp. 1355–1371.



Forensic psychiatric institutions are tasked with both containment and transformation; with securely policing the border between institution and society and readying patients for return to the community. Forensic institutions can thus be theorised as a form of ‘rite of passage’, engaged in a process of transformation which both navigates and demarcates social limits. This article contributes to literature on risk and control in clinical institutions by offering a novel theoretical synthesis of features of rites of passage and liminality, as facilitated by an art project in a forensic setting. Through the prism of the Graffiti and Wellbeing Project (GWP), an arts initiative, we explore the ways in which forensic institutions thus offer or impede opportunities for transformation. The project engendered a space for the transformation of difficult emotions and histories through the medium of art creating a liminal space of transformation within the confines of a secure institution. Drawing on Douglas, Kristeva and Bahktin, we argue that forensic institutions largely attempt to manage their own transgressive, marginal status, and the abject experiences of patients, through a recourse to order, suppression and sublimation. We argue for a wider range of responses to the transgressive and marginal experiences and behaviours prevalent in forensic settings, drawing on examples from the GWP.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions