Tracing outsideness: young women’s institutional journeys and the geographies of closed space (2016)
Understanding confinement and its complex workings between individuals and society has been the stated aim of carceral geography and wider studies on detention. This project contributes ethnographic insights from multiple sites of incarceration, working with an under-researched group within confined populations. Focussing on young female detainees in Scotland, this project seeks to understand their experiences of different types of ‘closed’ space. Secure care, prison and closed psychiatric facilities all impact on the complex geographies of these young women’s lives. The fluid but always situated relations of control and care provide the backdrop for their journeys in/out and beyond institutional spaces. Understanding institutional journeys with reference to age and gender allows an insight into the highly mobile, often precarious, and unfamiliar lives of these young women who live on the margins. This thesis employs a mixed-method qualitative approach and explores what Goffman calls the ‘tissue and fabric’ of detention as a complex multi-institutional practice. In order to be able to understand the young women’s gendered, emotional and often repetitive experiences of confinement, analysis of the constitution of ‘closed space’ represents a first step for inquiry. The underlying nature of inner regimes, rules and discipline in closed spaces, provide the background on which confinement is lived, perceived and processed. The second part of the analysis is the exploration of individual experiences ‘on the inside’, ranging from young women’s views on entering a closed institution, the ways in which they adapt or resist the regime, and how they cope with embodied aspects of detention. The third and final step considers the wider context of incarceration by recovering the young women’s journeys through different types of institutional spaces and beyond. The exploration of these journeys challenges and re-develops understandings of mobility and inertia by engaging the relative power of carceral archipelagos and the figure of femina sacra. This project sits comfortably within the field of carceral geography while also pushing at its boundaries. On a conceptual level, a re-engagement with Goffman’s micro-analysis challenges current carceral-geographic theory development. Perhaps more importantly, this project pushes for an engagement with different institutions under the umbrella of carceral geography, thus creating new dialogues on issues like ‘care’ and ‘control’. Finally, an engagement with young women addresses an under-represented population within carceral geography in ways that raise distinctly problematic concerns for academic research and penal policy. Overall, this project aims to show the value of fine grained micro-level research in institutional geographies for extending thinking and understanding about society’s responses to a group of people who live on the margins of social and legal norms.