Inhabiting the Australian Prison: Masculinities, Violence and Identity Work

  • Katie Seymour
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology book series (PSIPP)


That men’s prisons are grounded in, and dominated by, a narrowly conceived ideal of masculinity is a widely accepted “truth”. Representing the antithesis of the feminine, made real through the exclusion of women and of “weaker” men, the masculinity of the prison—of physicality, toughness, control and aggression—has endured, remarkably consistently, over time and across a range of institutional forms and structures. Nonetheless, the truth about masculinity, and prison masculinities in particular, is—like all “truths”—considerably more complex and nuanced. This chapter explores the complexities and contradictions of the prison as the setting in which some men are compelled to live and other men and women choose to work. The discussion incorporates two, interrelated, themes; firstly, I consider the ways in which masculinities are invoked within the prison, in and through relations within and between prisoners and prison officers, with particular focus on the multifarious manifestations and performances of masculinities in this context. Hierarchies of difference constitute the structural and cultural context for violence in prisons as in society; thus while violence is not inherently male, it is closely intertwined with relations of power including those of gender, “race”, ethnicity, class, sexuality and so on. Accordingly, the latter part of the chapter focuses on the significance of discourses of violence for identity work in prisons, specifically in relation to the ways in which these reflect and maintain certain discourses of masculinity.


Violence Violence talk Identity Masculinities Normativity Power relations Cultures of masculinity Prison culture 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katie Seymour
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Education, Psychology & Social Work, Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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