Accepted paper:

Between care and punishment: ethnographies of secure units for compulsory care in Sweden


Kim Silow Kallenberg (Umeå University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the paradox of secure units as being institutions of both care and punishment. The paper also addresses issues of conducting research in closed environments: ethical questions, self-reflexivity and positionality.

Paper long abstract:

The secure units for compulsory care of delinquent youth in Sweden pose a complicated, yet interesting, environment for ethnographic research. Just like prisons, secure units make up a closed environment and the people living there are not free to come and go as they please. But secure units are also facilities for care that are aimed at helping those in need. Treatment in the form of various behavioral therapies is conducted with the purpose of creating well-functioning citizens out of the "youth delinquents". It is precisely this paradoxical status of these institutions—that is, as being institutions for both care and punishment—that this paper shall discuss. Special attention shall be paid to the ways in which the staff is handling this paradox. Additionally, the paper shall discuss issues concerning the researcher's possibilities of gaining access to a field characterized by compulsion and punishment. The ongoing process of self-reflexivity and positionality will be explored, particularly in relation to the ethical dimension of research in a field of uneven power relations. I will argue that ethnographies of prisons or other closed environments should be viewed as research possibilities rather than problems. Fieldwork in closed environments force the researcher to continually face issues of power, knowledge and research position.

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panel P051
Prison ethnographies, research intimacies and social change