Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal at Clark (SURJ)

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Shelly Tenenbaum

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After hegemonic masculinity theory became the dominant paradigm for studying masculinities in the social sciences in the 1990s, it was swiftly applied to criminological research. In the decades since, studies of prison masculinities have emphasized the role of prison as an incubator of hypermasculinity. Incarcerated men are subsequently implicated as the unwilling victims of the spatial and social restrictions that characterize prisons as “total institutions” (Goffman 1961). Operating under this premise, research on prison masculinities have documented a culture driven by hypermasculine ideals, particularly the use of violence to obtain status among inmates. While these perspectives have been illuminating, I argue that the overemphasis on hypermasculinity in the prison context has dehumanized incarcerated men by failing to recognize the ways they resist the “prison code” and create positive meaning for themselves as men. In an effort to diversify the literature on incarcerated men, this paper outlines some of the alternate ways that inmates engage in identity-forming practices outside of the conventional masculine scripts. I draws upon three different aspects of prison life—personal health and fitness, educational programming, and wellness programming—to challenge to the one-dimensional view of prison masculinity that has dominated the literature.



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