University of Leicester
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Rhythms and Routines: sounding order in a local men’s prison through aural ethnography

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posted on 2019-11-15, 09:24 authored by Katherine Zoe HerrityKatherine Zoe Herrity
The prison soundscape is characterised by bangs, clangs, jangles and shouts reverberating around the stark environment (Hassine 1996). Wener (2012) argues the impact of these noises is enhanced by their inescapability, but what significance this has for the relationships and wellbeing of those who live and work in these spaces, has been historically ignored. This thesis, the first to focus specifically on sound in prison, answers these questions, and that of how tackling the neglect of aural experience in prisons literature might form a better understanding of prison social life. To answer this a novel method of research, Aural Ethnography (ethnography privileging aural experience), was developed and utilised to study a local men’s prison in England. Thorough immersion into the prison’s soundscape, over an extended period, allowed for an understanding of how these inescapable sounds shaped the everyday life of the prison. Using sound as a theoretical framework to explore prison life resulted in original insights and novel contributions to the prison literature on power, emotion, space, time, and order. The potency of prison spaces reverberated in the soundscape beyond the bounds of immediate interaction, amplifying the impact of jangling keys and clanging gates. This partially disentangles power from the rhythms and routines that comprise the order of a predictably structured day. At HMP Midtown, the soundscape functioned as a site for both gauging and affecting the emotional climate of prison spaces. A steady day – maintained through a delicate and ongoing community effort (Sparks et al 1996) – was a source of reassurance and security. It was the ontological security offered by a predictably ordered regime which provided much of the impetus for cooperating and contributing to the steady rhythms of the everyday. Sound amplified the strategies employed to navigate the prison environment, and the desire to emerge unscathed.



Yvonne Jewkes; Jennifer Fleetwood; Jo Phoenix; Sam King; Wendy Fitzgibbon

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Author affiliation

School of Criminology

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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