Skip to content

Toggle service links

9th ICCCR Annual Conference 2012 Resisting the Eclipse: An International Symposium on Prison Ethnography

Tuesday, 18 September 2012 10:00 - Wednesday, 19 September 2012 16:00

The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom

Are reports of the demise of prison ethnography exaggerated? Find out at this international gathering of prison researchers. Speakers, panels and workshops will explore what prison ethnography has got to offer in an era of mass incarceration.

Symposium organisers

Deborah Drake, Rod Earle, Abigail Rowe (ICCCR, The Open University)
Andrew Jefferson and Tomas Martin (Global Prisons Research Network)
Jennifer Sloan (University of Sheffield)

Conference report

On 18-19 September, the ICCCR hosted its 2012 annual conference. The topic this year was Prison Ethnography. The conference was an international symposium of speakers who have carried out ethnographic research in prisons across the globe.

The first day of the symposium, focused on aspects of the process of doing prison ethnography. It was opened by keynote speakers Professor Lorna Rhodes (University of Washington) and Professor Yvonne Jewkes (University of Leicester), speaking respectively on the 'Ethnographic Imagination in the Field of the Prison' (Rhodes) and 'What Prison Ethnography has to Offer in an Age of Mass Incarceration (Jewkes). Subsequent sessions on Day One included reflections on how prisons and ethnographers influence and impact one another (Rod Earle & Coretta Phillips, Abigail Rowe and ethnography scholar Martyn Hammersley); writing and reading the prison (Laura Piacentini and Ben Crewe); and sinking and swimming in prison research (Alison Liebling, Jennifer Sloan, and Deborah Drake).

Day 1

Day one was a rich, varied and candid exposition of the difficulties, complexities and dilemmas of undertaking ethnography in the closed, peculiar and damaging environment of the prison. Audience participation through questions, comments and the sharing of research stories enriched the texture of the collective discussions, building on and extending the themes identified by the speakers. Contributions from PhD student attendees reminded us of the anxiety, anticipation and curiosity that drew us all into prisons for the first time. Conversely, more seasoned prison ethnographers drew attention to the frustration, anger and pain of carrying out research within the structural violence of the prison environment.

Day 2

The second day of the symposium aimed to showcase the breadth and depth of ethnographic work completed or underway in non-English speaking countries. It opened with examinations of prison climates in the South, including Brazil (Sacha Darke), Ecuador (Chris Garces) and Uganda (Tomas Max Martin). The programme then moved on to focus on navigating prison spaces in India (Mahuya Bandyopadhyay); 'Non-Western spaces', including Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia, Philippines, Jordan, Kosovo and Honduras (Andrew Jefferson); and Norway (Thomas Ugelvik).

The symposium was closed by Gilles Chantraine who reflected on prisons under the lens of ethnographic criticism.


The rich, varied and deeply moving exposition of non-Western prison ethnography that was considered on the second day was organised by Andrew Jefferson and Tomas Max Martin of the Global Prisons Research Network (GPRN). In keeping with the aims of the GPRN, the programme of speakers challenged the hegemony of the Anglo-American axis of comparison in prison studies and abundantly demonstrated how much there is to be gained by considering the ethnographic work carried out in prisons in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the former Soviet States.

At this symposium, prison researchers from around the world came together to resist the silencing and invisibilisation of marginalised people that the relentless growth of imprisonment attempts to accomplish. We discussed the tensions and challenges of conducting in-depth research in prisons and grappled with the methodological, ethical, analytical and political dilemmas that inevitably arise when we enter prison worlds to conduct research. The large community of ethnographers who came together for this event (over 100 delegates from 12 different countries) are testament to the academic and political importance of prison ethnography.

Many thanks to all the speakers and delegates and to Julia Willan and Harriet Barker from Palgrave Macmillan. All those who attended and presented at the symposium enriched the content of the two days in ways that the organisers could not have anticipated or designed into the programme. We are in the process of setting up an email list so that we continue to build up the community of prison ethnographers. If you want to be added to this list, please send an email to

Read also Dominique Moran's blog post reflecting on her attendance at the symposium on her Carceral Geography website.

Partners and supporters

The 2012 symposium has been planned and organised by the ICCCR in collaboration with colleagues in the Global Prisons Research Network (GPRN), a multi-disciplinary network of researchers undertaking confinement studies on different levels - from the everyday life of specific institutions, to the wider political impact of penal policy changes.

The symposium is also supported by our partners at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS). The March 2013 edition of Criminal Justice Matters, the quarterly magazine published by the CCJS, will showcase extracts from papers presented at this symposium.