Sociology of the Prison Classroom: Marginalized Identities and Sociological Imaginations behind Bars
Teaching Sociology 39(2) 165–178 Ó American Sociological Association 2011 DOI: 10.1177/0092055X11400440 http://ts.sagepub.com
Kylie L. Parrotta1 and Gretchen H. Thompson1
Abstract The authors use sociology of the college classroom to analyze their experiences as feminists teaching sociology courses in the ‘‘unconventional setting’’ of prison. Reflective writing was used to chronicle experiences in the classes. They apply the concepts of doing gender, interaction order, and emotion work to the prison classroom. Based on their analysis, the authors examine the challenges and opportunities for critical education in prison. They aimed to use their teaching efforts to reach out to marginalized students and develop students’ sociological imaginations to assist them through the challenges of confinement and reentry. The authors’ analysis has implications for both prison education and higher education more broadly. They conclude that the success of prison education is dependent on establishing democratic classrooms that can enable students to see themselves as something more than inmates.
Keywords sociology of the classroom, critical pedagogy, emotions and learning
UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIOLOGY OF PRISON EDUCATION
We use the sociology of the college classroom (SoCC) framework (Atkinson, Buck, and Hunt 2009) to discuss our experiences as feminists teaching sociology courses in the ‘‘unconventional setting’’ of prison (Thomas 1983) or in a ‘‘total institution’’ (Davidson 1995; Goffman 1961). SoCC intersects with the sociology of education, higher education, and with the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) but moves the literature forward by urging teachers to examine their classrooms through a sociological lens (Atkinson et al. 2009). According to the authors, ‘‘The sociology of the college classroom is a sociologically informed teaching practice. It is the application of sociological theory and/or concepts to understand social phenomena that take place at the level of
the classroom and other sites of faculty–student interaction (e.g., advising appointments, informal mentoring)’’ (Atkinson et al. 2009:234). The authors argue that sociological theory can inform both teaching methods and student learning. As noted by the editors of the special issue of Teaching Sociology on the SoCC, ‘‘As sociologists we have the capacity to critically analyze and understand what goes on around us’’ (Macomber, Rusche, and Atkinson 2009:228). This is the goal of our article. Using the concept of a total institution (Davidson 1995; Goffman 1961) and a symbolic
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
Corresponding Author: Kylie L. Parrotta, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Box 8107, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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interactionist framework (Blumer 1969), we analyze our teaching experiences in courses conducted at a men’s and a women’s prison. We apply the social psychological concepts of (1) doing gender, (2) interaction order, and (3) emotion work to evaluate systematically instructor-to-student and student-to-student interactions in our prison classrooms. We also analyze how these interactions were shaped by the total institution of a prison. Thus, our examination is informed by other sociological studies of teaching higher education in prison, the analytical concept of the total institution, and social psychological concepts. Through this analysis and evaluation, we extend the SoCC literature to a nontraditional setting (Atkinson et al. 2009). Additionally, our study contributes to the broader SoTL literature (Atkinson, Wills, and McClure 2006) while incorporating a public sociological aspect (Buroway 2005).
Teaching Sociology 39(2)...