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Tomas Max Martin

Ugandan prison staff both criticize and welcome human rights as a reform agenda that brings about insecurity as well as tangible improvements. In practice, human rights discourse is malleable enough for prison officers to cobble together a take on human rights that enables them to embrace the concept. The analysis of the emic notion of “reasonable caning” illustrates this malleability as staff concurrently take stands against inhumane violence and continue to legitimize caning while aligning with human rights. Human rights are locally negotiated, and it is argued that human rights reform cannot simply be analyzed as a submissive or opposing reaction to the top-down export of powerful global discourses. The embrace of human rights that unfolds in Ugandan prisons is rather a productive and multifaceted effort by prison officers to get purchase on legal technologies and reconceptualizations of prison management practices that affect their lives.

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Connecting and Disconnecting

Exploring Prisoners’ Relations with the Outside World in Myanmar

Andrew M. Jefferson and Tomas Max Martin


Drawing on a case study carried out in Myanmar, this article elaborates on the concept of connectivity as a rich and critical articulation of the way prisoners and their relatives develop and sustain relationships during incarceration. The notion of connectivity offers an alternative analytic frame to that provided by established notions of prisoner–family contact. Drawing primarily on interview data, we examine how people connect and disconnect in situations of chaos, control and surveillance; how they suffer under circumstances of not-knowing; and how they establish protective exchange relations. We illustrate the utility of the concept of connectivity for interrogating the fundamentally relational practice of imprisonment and show that common notions of inside and outside are partially deconstructed through prison actors’ agentic efforts to cut ties or tie strings across prison walls.

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Sensing prison climates

Governance, survival, and transition

Tomas Max Martin, Andrew M. Jefferson, and Mahuya Bandyopadhyay

In December 2010 members of the Global Prisons Research Network (GPRN) met for a seminar entitled “Dissecting the 'Non-Western' Prison.” The articles showcased in this thematic section were first presented there. This introduction proposes the notion of “prison climate” as a useful way of rethinking variations and similarities across prisons. This notion directs attention away from the prison “as such” to the prison “as is” and points to the fact that the idea of prison itself is contested and changing, however hegemonic it might appear. We argue that a truly representative and international penology should go beyond the mapping of differences and similarities. Rather, the researcher should pursue the twofold question of what persists and what mutates within and across prison worlds. We advocate an ethnographic orientation to deciphering the entanglements of relations, practices, and dynamics that constitute particular prison climates and we include some reflections on the particular challenges of conducting fieldwork in prisons.

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Confinement Beyond Site: Connecting Urban and Prison Ethnographies

Julienne Weegels, Andrew M. Jefferson, and Tomas Max Martin


Recognizing that the ‘prison’ and the ‘street’ are increasingly understood to be enmeshed sites of exclusion and confinement, this introduction proposes an analytical orientation towards relations and practices across these sites, which attends specifically to the ways in which they are mutually constitutive. Utilizing notions of traversal and porosity, we push debates on confinement beyond their prison-centric impulse. This decentring of the prison goes beyond reading one site in terms of the other (the street as just another carceral space; the prison as another site of exclusion). We challenge the divisiveness of prison/street binaries and the domination of boundary-making by emphasizing the importance of polyvalent experiences and by drawing attention to the practices of people who traverse the prison/street threshold. On the basis of the fine-grained ethnographic contributions making up this collection, the introduction points towards novel avenues for a (grounded) theorization of confinement in terms of overlap, traversal and porosity.