Cultural talk and other intimate acquaintances with Russian prisons

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    This article discusses a prison ethnography derived from immersion in Russian culture. It highlights the limitations of Western research testimonies as being largely silent on the interplay between cultural antecedents and prison scholarship. This is particularly problematic for conducting research into Russian prisons, which evolved along a distinctive cultural trajectory: the prisoner as the loyal hero and the prison as pillar of Soviet nationalism
    and identity. I argue that cultural knowledge of Russian society is essential to assess how prisons have changed. The article reports on the ethnographic approach adopted whereby the experience was one of shared subjectivity (mastering Russian and immersion in cultural rituals). The exciting ethnography of living in prisons did enrich the ‘deep level’ understanding of penal transformation. However, my own position in this study resulted in me becoming over-immersed and existentially disoriented. The article concludes by commenting on my own ethnographic conundrum and constructing an explanation that reflects the local cultural sensibility.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)189-208
    Number of pages19
    JournalCrime, Media, Culture
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


    • ethnography
    • Russia
    • prison
    • criminology research

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