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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

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

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...
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