Friday, February 13, 2015

Rubin on Prisoners' Resistance

The latest issue of Theoretical Criminology includes an article that may interest legal historians of prisons and punishment: "Resistance or Friction: Understanding the Significance of Prisoners’ Secondary Adjustments," by Ashley T. Rubin (Florida State University). Here's the abstract:
Scholars examining prisoners’ “secondary adjustments” have often emphasized prisoners’ “resistance” to the prison regime, particularly their agentic acts that frustrate the prison’s rules, goals, or functions. While these agency-centered accounts offer an important corrective to the understanding of prisons as totalizing institutions, they may go too far. I argue that scholars have overused (and misused) the term “resistance” to describe certain prisoner behaviors, creating both analytical and normative consequences. Instead, I suggest the concept of “friction” more accurately describes the reactive behaviors that occur when people find themselves in highly controlled environments.
Here's the historical part (cribbed from the Article's intro):
Drawing on archival data from Eastern State Penitentiary (1829–1875), I discuss three episodes of prisoner activity that would normally be construed as resistance. Instead, these episodes illustrate three characteristics of friction as I define it. First, these frictional activities are normal human behaviors that happen to take place in prison. Second, these activities apparently respond to prisoners’ social and physical needs and desires rather than to their understanding of autonomy, rights, or justice. Third, these activities are largely apolitical and do not intentionally challenge the prison regime.
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