Paper short abstract:
Based on fieldwork conducted between 2004 and 2009, this paper explores the challenges, limits and possibilities about ethnographic fieldwork in Brazilian prisons and their implications in the production of contemporary knowledge within anthropology.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores the challenges, limits and possibilities inherent in prison ethnographies and their contribution to the contemporary methodological reflections about ethnography as a cornerstone to anthropological knowledge. Based on fieldwork conducted between 2004 and 2009 in three "common system" women's prisons in the city of Brasilia and three "alternative" prisons in the State of Minas Gerais (known as APACs by their Portuguese acronyms) I explore the political, social and academic importance of conduction ethnographies within prisons. After all, these constitute the nucleus of contemporary punitive systems, which makes their study a contribution to the research on public security and criminal policy.
Prisons, taken as both microuniverses embedded in their own internal dynamics, and as key locations where the social, political and cultural process of a globalized world transect, offer researchers dilemmas on spaces of hyper surveillance, and put forth methodological and theoretical questions that are central to contemporary anthropological inquiry. These include reflections about researchers' access to penal institutions and inmates, their transit between physical and symbolic spaces of social control, multiple relations and positionalities in the field, and the tensions between diverse actors, ethical-political points of view, personal and disciplinary motivations for research in prisons and, ultimately, the impact of such studies and their potentiality for the transformation of social realities.
Prison ethnographies, research intimacies and social change