Intersubjectivity, social inclusion and meaning making in prison environments

  • Eugenia Jenny Kontosthenous

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Prison environments do not constitute social vacuums but opportunities for positive social interaction with others are rare. Mistrust and hypervigilance are ingrained to custodial environments and prisoners often find themselves fighting a one man war against the prison system. They may desire to connect but may adopt a defensive or protective stance in order to shield themselves from the unknown and potentially harmful intentions of others. Our current understanding is that previous experiences of maladaptive relating can be counterproductive in an individual’s attempt to connect with others. The challenges of the prison reality are not limited to prisoners but extend to prison staff. Previous research has failed to qualitatively explore the ways that prison staff navigates through the opposing dynamics inherent to their role; the balance of care and custody can have severe implication for the wellbeing of staff but can also contribute to personal growth and contentedness with their job, as suggested by the present qualitative systematic review. Every social interaction in custody, every contact, matters and can have a transformative potential. Some custodial environments operate as therapeutic communities and provide relational opportunities as an intervention to aid rehabilitation. Research has repeatedly and successfully attempted to establish whether the therapeutic community interventions work but it has yet to explore how they work. The present empirical project responds to the need for understanding of the processes that allow reconciliation and encourage meaningful interaction, shared understanding and co-constructed meaning. Six interviews were conducted with residents from therapeutic communities at HMP Grendon and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The results of this project branch off to a more intersubjective approach, fundamentally interactionist that encourages a shift in perspective from making sense of to making sense with.
Date of AwardJan 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAdrian Paul Charles Needs (Supervisor)

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