"Just don’t wear prison issue!”: Material Deprivation, Material Machismo and the Illicit Economy

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Drawing on ethnographic and qualitative research conducted across four prisons in England and Wales, this chapter revisits Sykes’ conceptualization of the “deprivation of material goods and services.” The chapter explores how such deprivation became more pronounced and acute over the course of the last decade (2011 onwards), and how prisoners adapted in ways that threatened rather than enhanced inmate solidarity. It analyzes how the illicit prison economy flourished and evolved, with economic imperatives serving to redefine forms of prisoner leadership, the “argot roles,” and the central tenants of the “inmate code.” The chapter argues that prisoner culture mirrors and reinforces the individualized nature of penal power with the effect that accessing material goods is not just a question of comfort, survival, or meaningful sentence progression, but represents crucial identity work. Status rests with those who can demonstrate their “material machismo” and “carceral capital” in ways that extend beyond the ability and willingness to use physical force when required to include the demonstrable ability to acquire material goods, consumer status symbols, and pecuniary advantage. Ultimately, it is argued that the evolving nature of the nature, dynamics, and culture of the prison society demonstrates how dynamic the prison is, and that it is this capacity for change that demands ongoing, careful, and immersive ethnographic research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPower and Authority in the Modern Prison: Revisiting the Society of Captives
EditorsBen Crewe, Andrew Goldsmith, Mark Halsey
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780191891762
ISBN (Print)9780198859338
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2022


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  • Crime in Prison

    Gooch, K., Treadwell, J. & Barkham-Perry, G.


    Project: Central government, health and local authorities

  • Prison Bullying, Violence and Victimisation

    Gooch, K. & Treadwell, J.


    Project: Research-related funding

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