Constructing Criminalized Subjectivities: A Qualitative Analysis of the Penal Voluntary Sector in Canada

Friday, 20 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Kaitlyn QUINN, University of Toronto, Canada
As sociologists, what terminology should we draw on in our research of individuals who were once incarcerated? The literature favors a combination of: former offenders, ex-prisoners, and former inmates. However, in perpetually anchoring identity to a stigmatized past, these linguistic conventions may indirectly make the transition from carceral to community settings more difficult for those who have been criminalized. Specifically, this paper problematizes the enduring use of the prefixes “ex” and “former” as indicators of subjugated group status long after individuals have been released from prison (Maruna 2001). In seeking to help individuals navigate this process successfully, volunteers who work in rehabilitative settings must arbitrate depictions of criminalized individuals that circulate in public discourses, are officially endorsed by voluntary associations, and are informed by their own lived experiences. In response, this paper explores the important relationship between volunteers and criminalized individuals as consequentially refereed by language. I draw on ethnographic research and interviews conducted in two Canadian cities to describe: how volunteers may reinforce, challenge, and/or complicate existing boundaries drawn between criminalized and non-criminalized groups in their use of language. My analysis is focused on when social divisions are hardened between volunteers and criminalized individuals, and conversely how these boundaries are challenged or interrogated. “Boundary transgressions” within which criminalized subjectivities are reimagined and expressed more productively are especially important to note as these narratives are largely absent from the literature. The broader goal of this paper is a critical turn upon our disciplinary conventions surrounding language in favor of a perspective that highlights how the terminology we use to describe our research participants is always embedded within relations of power and processes of domination. In doing so I hope to denaturalize and re-politicize the language we call on to describe our research participants who have been released from prison.