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Book Review: Everyday Life in Prison: Confinement, Surveillance, Resistance

Title: Everyday Life in Prison: Confinement, Surveillance, Resistance

Author: Mahuya Bandyopadhyay

Year: 2010

Price: Rs.845 (Hardback)

Publisher: Orient Black Swan

Everyday Life in a prison by Mahuya Bandyopadhyay offers an ethnographic account based on fieldwork done in a central prison (whose name is not divulged) in Kolkata in the late 1990s. Since very little is actually known about what happens inside prisons, the significance of the book lies in the authors ability to make visible the nature of life behind high walls, offers an account of how prisoners make sense of their lives and examine their interaction between everyday life, organizational practices and stated goals of prison reforms.

Using Foucaults theories of discourse and power, the book offers a critique of Goffmans idea of total institutionto show how everyday practices (based on Pierre Bourdieus theory of practice) offer enabling sites of negotiation, resistance and subversion. It seeks to deconstruct the accepted binaries of formal and informal spheres: of freedom and bondage, of past and present to reveal a world of interactional spaces’ (authors term for free, apparently unmonitored areas of interaction, p.281) to challenge the image of prison as fixed and rule bound’ (p. 61).

The study advances this critique mainly through the participant observation method by offering an account based on interviews with prison personnel, inmates and some families. The everyday social worldof the prison enabled the author to seek sites and spaces that helped avert the gaze of the authorities (as both researcher and respondents were subjected to surveillance); the interview sessions, according to the author, often became desirable subversive sites’ (p. 49). The book usefully documents how constraining circumstances can be deployed towards productive research. Also, the deliberate use of Bengali terms enhances its immediate specificity.

Courtesy: Sage Journals



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