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Institute of Criminology


with Professor Ben Crewe

To attend in-person, please register here!

To attend on-line, please register here!


One of the striking characteristics of comparative prison scholarship is that it has tended to stop at the gates of the prison, drawing on relatively abstract measures, like prison population rates, which give no sense of what imprisonment is actually like or how it varies. With a few exceptions, studies of the inner world of the prison have also struggled to capture the complexity of the way that penal power operates and how prisoners experience it. In this inaugural lecture, I will reflect on the contribution of my work to describing such matters. First, I will outline the development of a framework that characterises imprisonment through a set of conceptual metaphors: ‘depth’, ‘weight’, ‘tightness’ and breadth’. I will then explain how I have come to think of these concepts as representing the ‘texture’ of imprisonment. I will conclude by discussing how this framework relates to other ways of conceptualising and comparing prison regimes, focussing in particular on matters of penal order and legitimacy, and advocating for approaches that marry the normative and the sociological: what prisons are trying to do, the nature of their moral dialogue with prisoners, and the social and existential dynamics they produce. 

A drinks reception for informal conversation will take place in the basement common room for all who attend in person.

Thursday, 29 February, 2024 - 17:00 to 18:30
Event location: 
Seminar Rooms B3 & B4, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge