Boys to Men: Negotiating Agency and Identity in a Young Offender Institution

Senior Common Room at Birmingham Law School
Wednesday 2 November 2011 (12:30-14:00)

If you wish to attend please contact Dr. Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco at

Staff Research Seminar: Kate Gooch


The 'Prison' functions as the symbolic and material manifestation of the State’s power to punish. This power to punish does not simply exist as an ethereal force, but represents the coercive threat which contains prisoners within the prison walls. Few would enter such confinement voluntarily, and indeed few prisoners would remain as such, without the implicit knowledge of the full potential of state coercion. Inevitably, the internal character of the prison is shaped and structured through penal power. However, the flow of penal power within the prison is not simply a question of maintaining the captivity of its charges. Rather, penal power flows with certain ambitions, objectives and using certain techniques. It colours the nature of staff-prisoner relationships and has profound implications for the lived experience of prisoners and the quality of prison life.

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the ways in which juvenile prisoners engage with, adapt to, and negotiate the system of power. In particular, it aims to critically analyse how young people seek to accomplish agency and identity despite the structural constraints placed upon them, the subjectivying tendencies of penal power and the impulse towards the adoption of a ‘prisoner’ identity. As previous research concerning adult prisoners has documented, prisoners are both the agents and subjects of power. This paper expands this line of argument by documenting its application to a juvenile cohort, exploring the precise manner in which young people construct agency and identity along gendered lines, but also in terms of their adolescence and maturation to adulthood.

Discussant: Dr Marianne Wade


  • Staff Research Seminars take place at 1pm in the Senior or Junior Common Room, Birmingham Law School
  • A sandwich lunch and a glass of wine will be provided from 12:30 pm
  • Postgraduate students and academic staff are welcome to attend.

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