Prison visitation as accessible engagement: encounters, bystanders, performance, and inattention

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Northumbria University Newcastle


It has long been recognised within communications and linguistic studies that human interactions cannot be reduced to merely exchanges between two participants. Beyond the dyadic model of communication (involving speaker and listener/hearer) are participation frameworks of different kinds, involving multiple actors in diverse contexts. Our focus here is prison visitation, and rather than seeing it as an exchange between two or more people, we bring to it a concern for the diversified participatory roles which characterise this social interaction. In so doing, we extend extant scholarship on prisoners’ family contact which, although concerned with the visit as a significant aspect of that contact, rarely focuses in close detail on its specificities. We explore the social dynamics of prison visits by deploying, for the first time in this field of scholarship, a reading of Goffman’s theorisations of the nature of social interaction. This approach enables us to identify factors which inhibit positive feelings of ‘closeness’ during visits, and to make policy recommendations intended to enhance the experience of visitation for prisoners and visitors, and the effectiveness of prison systems in enabling beneficial visitation.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Prison and the Family
EditorsMarie Hutton, Dominique Moran
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2019