n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - The word on the inside : epistemological considerations on women, crime and imprisonment

Volume 30 Number 4
  • ISSN : 1012-8093


There is surprisingly very little contemporary debate about ‘methods’ of research within the prison context, with no sound rules or guiding principles about what it takes to work with incarcerated populations nor the risks, to both researchers and prisoners, within these settings. This article will draw on the findings, and subsequent theoretical analysis, of a project with women in prison in South Africa – The Pathways Project. This foundational work and ongoing interrogation of ‘theories of women and crime’, provide an account of the interminable tensions between researchers’ interests and the interests of imprisoned women. Both compounded and amplified by an institutional climate of regulation, order, disorder, crowded facilities and rules that are simultaneously rigid and shifting. It further reflects on the challenges of conducting empirical research in a prison context and the delicate balancing act of (re)articulating women’s life stories in a way that is sufficiently ‘scientific’ and also satisfies the implicit institutional requirement of ‘making a difference’. It is argued that research methods, the theoretical underpinnings of research and the (desired) outcomes of research are intrinsically linked. This confluence of factors has consequences for the methods we utilise, the questions we ask or evade, who and how we interview, how we analyse and understand our ‘data’, and what we eventually ‘decide’ to communicate.

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