“Down” time : experiences of agency and structure in a women’s prison.
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The voices of incarcerated women remain largely unheard and underrepresented in sociological discourse. Though the rise of modern feminism did spark an influx of research regarding incarcerated women, the result of these efforts was a dichotomous characterization of the “active resistor” or the “ideal victim”. Such a dichotomy limits the consideration of the complexities of decision making within the total institution, and implies that incarcerated women are only making choices when they are going against the structure. The tendency to equate resistance of oppressive institutions with agency can make us blind to the other forms of agency that manifest from within it. It is imperative that we consider the environment in which individuals make decisions, as well as what their motivations and reasons are for their actions. As little opportunity has been given to these women to define their lived experiences for themselves, this work seeks to remedy that fact. This work focuses on the utility of qualitative research in prison studies, exemplifying its ability to capture the complexities of the experiences of incarcerated women. These findings work to highlight aspects of their incarceration that are not fully accounted for within the victim/resistor dichotomy. Through their words, we can better understand their action, or inaction, while allowing them to define it for themselves.