Living Life: Young Men’s Experiences of Long-Term Imprisonment

Tynan, Rachel. 2018. Living Life: Young Men’s Experiences of Long-Term Imprisonment. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This research is concerned with the long-term imprisonment of young men aged 15-18 and is based on fieldwork conducted at a single site in England. Using empirical, qualitative data obtained through ethnographic methods of observation, participation and interviewing, the thesis investigates how young men cope with long-term imprisonment and how they imagine their futures. Young people’s experiences of imprisonment are understood from the perspective of their own biographies, and the thesis argues that studies of youth imprisonment should incorporate this perspective.

The research also identifies the pains of imprisonment that young men describe and the function of violence within the institution and as a tool for constructing and maintaining identity prior to and during imprisonment. Young prisoners experience - and resist - the imposition of racial, class and legal status in specific ways and their resistance is what creates a unique ‘prison culture’ that is not held exclusively in the institution but travels with young people. Resistance is often realised through violence but young people’s recognition of violence is mediated through the same imposed characteristics.

The thesis advances the idea that young prisoners draw on their biographies and that this forms the basis of a carceral habitus, a set of inter-related dispositions that enable young people to navigate their sentence. This habitus is shaped by the geographical and social attributes of the institution but, more significantly, by their relationships with others inside and outside the prison. The thesis highlights that the relationship between biography and habitus is mediated through trauma and argues that the interaction between the two should not be overlooked.

Finally, the thesis sets out the need for studies of youth imprisonment to consider the wider sociological and historical factors that contribute to how imprisonment is constructed and how it is experienced by young people.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Prison, youth justice, life sentences, ethnicity in prison, carceral geography, indeterminate sentences

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 November 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2019 13:23

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:14


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