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Accepted Paper:

Between inside and outside: projects of visual research inside Italian prisons  
Rossella Schillaci (UT Austin Colab - Nova University of Lisbon, University of Texas at Austin) Valentina Bonifacio (Ca' Foscari University of Venice) Lucia Veronesi

Paper short abstract:

The aim of the paper is to discuss why the use of a video-camera as a research tool is a particularly valuable resource in prison, it offers a mean for communicating on the part of the inmates, in a situation openly and drastically marked by impotence and disempowerment.

Paper long abstract:

In the debate on the feasibility of ethnographic research inside detention centres, visual medias can represent an interesting starting point for negotiating the presence of anthropologists inside such a restricted space. It is impossible in fact to start doing research inside a prison without the consent of the inmates, but on the other hand it is very difficult to get to know someone inside a prison and to establish a trustful relationship with that person prior to the investigation (unless the anthropologist already knows the person before s/he went to prison). The researcher can't just 'happen to be' in a prison. According to the Italian Ministry of Justice, any person who is not related to the inmates through a kingship network is a "third person" and needs to present "reasonable causes" in order to meet them. Moreover, it is the prison director who decides if the reason presented by the third person is reasonable or not, and if the encounter is finally possible. Our claim is that the use visual media - in this case a videocamera - can facilitate the relationship by providing a "reasonable cause" both for the institution representatives and for the inmates. Without going into the topic of the legal constrains, we would like to offer some narratives on how the presence of a camera helped justifying the presence of the anthropologist in the prison, and how it facilitated the encounter with the inmates.

Panel P002
Confinement institutions, ethnography, and public relevance [Anthropology of Confinement Network]
  Session 1