Carceral companions: deconstructing masculinity and criminality through companion animal relationships in the dwelt world

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Geographical Sciences


The UK prison system is verging on crisis due to overcrowding, underfunding and soaring prisoner suicide-rates (HLPR 2017; Preece 2014). The strain on prison-programmes to be effective, in a system floundering under cuts, is vital for the wellbeing of prisoners and society. But how effective can a programme grounded in static understandings of identity be, neglecting the co-becoming of the human and animal experience? Some failing prisons such as Wandsworth, still retain elements of their original panopticon design: the all-seeing eye serving to objectify (HLPR 2017; Wilson 2002; Foucault 1977). This reductive treatment of prisoners not only neglects the more-than-human but establishes the incarcerated as less-than-human. The novel phenomenon of Dog Training Programmes (DTPs), where prisoners train working-dogs is perhaps the beginning of attending to the more-than-human identity of prisoners.

As biopolitics finds new intimate significance through the realm of biotechnology, "what bodies count and what counts as bodily" (Whatmore 2006: 606) has become a crucial question for cultural geography. Yet, the realm of companion-animals is rarely considered in legitimising subjects and becoming incorporated into fleshy entities. The most obvious example of inscribing power and discipline onto the body is within the prison where incarcerated bodies have come to count as less-than. The nascent call for a carceral comparison between humans and non-humans has been identified (Morin 2016; Moran 2015; Furst 2006). This call has the potential to aid the interdisciplinary need to reconfigure hegemonic understandings and materialities of criminality, gender and the more-than-human lived experience. Hegemonic narratives are reproduced as victims of masculinist exhaustiveness, (re)creating reductive binaries: male/female, incarcerated/free, human/animal. Transcending these fixed signifiers can inform the reformation of the prison where gender as a rigid construct is materialised: 95% of the UK's prison-population are 'male' (Perry 2016) and globally DTPs are more likely to involve male rather than female participants (Furst 2006). The roots of attending to this call are situated beneath the world geography inhabits, illuminated through the notions of performativity, carceral spaces, non-representational theory and biopolitics.

DTP research remains reductive, neglecting co-becoming in the dwelt world: through processes of abjection as well as utilising the companion-animal bond as a mode of "identity work" (Ingold 1995; Butler 1993; Snow & Anderson 1987: 1348). DTPs core aims are improving prisoner behaviour, educational engagement, employability and well-being (Leonardi 2017). Despite being common in the US, only one DTP has been carried out in the UK, in 2014 at HM YOI Polmont, Scotland. Of the 66 (all-male) participants interviewed "all but one perceived change in themselves" yet all noted an increase in "self-esteem" (Leonardi 2017: 945). It is this self that must be viewed not as an isolated entity, but identity knowledges must be created from dwelt encounters. Whilst DTPs depend on dwelt experience, studies to date are reductive, failing to represent multiple "agentic relationships" (Haraway 2000: 116). Leonardi's (2017) research at Polmont was conducted by asking questions categorised into emotional 'themes'. Interviews revealed prior relationships with animals such as in participant forty's statement: "When I used to have dogs...If the dog was bad I'd raise my hand to it...." (Leonardi 2017: 945). The existing research treats the incarcerated encounter as ahistoric, neglecting the history of affection inscribed into the bodily sensorium of the participant and how the DTP affects this corporeality, becoming with the companion-animal. This project adopts a more-than-human approach, understanding the socio-political and sensory level of which becoming takes shape 'in here' rather than externally to one's own embodiment.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2094777 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 01/01/2023 Amy Jessica Hornsby