The virtual reality of Russian prisons: the impact of social media on prisoner agency and prison structure in Russian prisons

Laura Piacentini, Elena Katz

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    Prison agencies around the world are reporting a rise in the use of illicit communication devices in prison. Nevertheless, there is very little prison sociological research into how prisoners themselves communicate online. Using Russia as a case study, this paper reports findings from new research on how prisoners are engaging with the internet and the effects of this on prisoner agency and prison structure. Our main finding is that Russian penality sits at the nexus of two processes. First, it is de-institutionalised in that the prison, discursively speaking, is no longer fixed to a built form. Second, it is reflexively re-territorialised in that it places prisoner agency onto a third space. The paper presents a new conceptual framework of ‘prisoners as absent’, which reflects penality in Russia as culturally contingent and politically resilient. The interplay between de-institutionalisation and re-territorialisation has produced on a new penal imaginary - a carceral motif for the twenty first century - in the form of a virtual world.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)183-204
    Number of pages22
    JournalOñati Socio-Legal Series
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


    • Russia
    • prisoners
    • agency
    • social media
    • absentism

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