Accepted Paper:

Ethnography and prison reform: a situated account  

Author:

Manuela Cunha (Universidade do Minho, CRIA-UMinho)

Paper short abstract:

Taking stock of a three-decade experience of engaging with prison actors, and with a focus on a particular experience of interacting with a committee for prison reform, I aim to discuss the ingredients that render ethnographic accounts valuable to policy oriented publics.

Paper long abstract:

Having conducted ethnographic enquiries on prisons and penal confinement in Portugal during the last three decades, I have had several occasions to engage with publics implicated in policy-definition or policy implementation at different levels. I have also interacted with a variety of institutional agents and frontline personnel acting one way or another upon what they generally define as a "social problem". Regardless of the nature or the degree of their power to intervene on that problem, these could all be considered as policy-oriented audiences, whether they were policy officials, committees for prison reform, magistrates, national or local prison directors, social workers and other actors. Their expectations in relation to prison-research and its outcomes are formed within particular frames, such as the "denunciation" of prison ills, or the production of "specific recommendations" to remedy them…. For my part, although I consider my research to have policy implications, it was not itself policy-driven or designed for policy. However, in spite of being far from matching these audiences' dominant frame of expectations, my work was surprisingly well received and did produce a particular form of impact relevant for policy.

Taking stock of this general experience of publicizing ethnographic research, and with a focus on a particular experience of interacting with a committee for prison reform, I discuss the ingredients that can render ethnographic accounts valuable and persuasive to policy oriented publics

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