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Inside the walls, across the borders: power and human agency in prisons

Wednesday, February 27, 2019, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Whilst universally places of deprivation, prisons are not created equal, nor do people within them experience and manage their lives, or daily work in the case of prison staff, uniformly. Prisons offer an opportunity to explore the interconnectedness of social structure and human agency. Although generally constraining in prisons, structure nonetheless can assist, if not encourage, prisoners and officers to exercise, assert, and augment their personal and collective agency. These social structures are dynamic. Prisons are far from being remote archipelagos or insulated institutions. They constitute a part of a wider government apparatus; economic, racial, and political factors, policing priorities and tactics, legal conjuncture, public sensibilities, and legacies all shape who and how goes into prison and how life in prison develops. Using the cases of Ukraine and South Africa, I will explore how the momentous societal transformation and reorganisation of state governance cohere with daily life in prisons. I will discuss how prisoners and officers as autonomous, moral agents engage with structure. They reproduce, challenge, and alter structure whilst preserving or altering their identity to develop or fit the required or desired role. I will demonstrate how people in prison use their predicament to reinvent themselves and re-actualise their lives.