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Research Seminar: "Queer Perspectives on Imprisonment"

A research seminar co-hosted with the Criminal Justice Centre.

"Penitentiary pleasures: Queer understandings of prison paradoxes"

Dr. Elena Vasiliou, Global Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, University of Warwick & University of California Berkeley.


Abstract:In this article, I advocate for the application of queer theory as a means of deconstructing the binary formation through which pain and pleasure in prison are understood. To do that, I explore how ex-prisoners’ narratives might reveal (queer) moments of pleasure and complement existing criminological scholarship that has neglected such an issue. This exploration is framed by Foucault’s theory of pleasure as a productive force that renders it akin to power: it produces an effect. In this article, I draw on Edelman’s concept of “futurity” and Halberstam’s “failure” to bring criminology and queer theory into a productive dialogue. In my analysis, I use Jackson and Mazzei’s “plugging in” approach centered around the categories of (a) pleasure and pain, (b) pleasure and resistance, and (c) sexuality and pleasure. This article draws data from a broader study of ex-prisoners in Cyprus. This work posits a question about the possibility and productivity of pleasure in conditions of resisting, failing, and suffering. I argue that this framework goes beyond normative criminological approaches to reveal how prison experience is not only a struggle between power and resistance, but a complex nexus which also involves self-destruction and pleasure.


"Rethinking Sex and Intimacy in British Prisons"

Sarah Lamble, Reader in Criminology & Queer Theory, Birkbeck

Tanya Serisier, Reader in Feminist Theory, Birkbeck

Lizzie Hughes, Doctoral Candidate, Birkbeck

Alex Dymock, Lecturer in Law, Goldsmiths



The paper makes the case that sex, desire and intimacy play a far more significant role in prison power dynamics than commonly assumed, with powerful effects that potentially span well beyond the prison itself. The paper suggests that existing literature on sex in prison, particularly in the British context, is hampered both by a lack of research, but also by a limited frame that sees sex and intimacy in prison as anomalous, exceptional and relatively unimportant in everyday prison dynamics. When sex and intimacy is considered, it is largely attached to specific populations such as LGBTQ+ people and those labelled as sex offenders, producing them variously as “vulnerable”, hypersexualised, and/or deviant figures. By contrast, the rest of the prison population, including staff, are treated as if they leave sex and desire behind when entering the prison. Rethinking sex, desire and intimacy in prison from a queer perspective allows us to identify how ostensibly isolated instances of formal and informal management of sexuality occur in myriad ways across the prison, are wide-ranging in their effects, and are linked to wider modes of governance.

This talk is free and everyone is welcome. The seminar will be hosted on Teams and you can join using the link here.

We understand many of you are juggling work with other responsibilities at home, so we are happy for you to join the event with children or pets.

If you face any barriers and there are any adjustments we can make to support your full participation, please get in touch with Dr Anastasia Chamberlen (