It's a men's world. A narrative research on male prisoners' experience of prison life and prison culture.

Project Details


This research project aims to explore "masculinity" as a coping strategy for male prisoners, by combining two important academic gaps: (1) the serious lack of gender perspectives in Belgian criminological research (Verschaeve, 1999; Lippens, 2005; 2008a-b; 2009a-b) and (2) the relative absence of qualitative penal research on various aspects of Belgian prison life (Robert, 2008). Since prisons are traditionally described as a hypermasculine environment (Toch, 1998), masculinity oriented research is relevant and necessary to determine to what extent this hypothesis can be validated in a Belgian penal context.

The central research question is: What is the importance of gender in Belgian male prisoner's discourse concerning their (criminal) life course and their prison experience? This project has both fundamental and empirical ambitions. Firstly, it aspires a conceptual evaluation of both the notion "hegemonic masculinity" (Connell, 1987; 1995) and Messerschmidt's theory of "crime as structured action" (1993; 1997). Secondly it aims to explore, test and elaborate international empirical findings on prison experience, prison culture and hierarchical positioning from an explicit masculinity perspective. Generally, men are the scope of penal research, without recognizing them as gendered subjects. However, masculinity studies have been demonstrating that a masculinity perspective could clearly lead to a better understanding of men's construction of social reality (Lippens, 2009a).

We will combine both (1) participative observations of long-term prisoners and (2) a narrative analysis of their discourse concerning their (criminal) life history and various aspects of their prison experience. This should allow us to further elaborate the rather limited number of international gendered insights in prison culture, prison hierarchy and prison experience, while resulting simultaneously in an original and fundamental contribution to the academic discussion based on original Belgian empirical data. This project contains also a specific policy-related relevance: knowledge on prison experience allows dealing with dynamics of prison culture and hierarchy and as a result encourages both social wellbeing (of both prisoners and prison officers) and reintegration (Evans & Wallace, 2008).

All together, masculinity oriented penal research is relevant on many levels and fundamental scientific scrutiny was urgently needed in Belgium. Since 2004 the masculinity thesis has been continuously explored, starting with a master thesis on the subject. Further research has been valorised in various gender oriented publications (Lippens, 2009a; Lippens, Nuytiens & Scheirs, 2009a) and lectures (Lippens, 2008a-b; Lippens, 2009b; Lippens Nuytiens & Scheirs, 2009b). The need for expertise on the intersection of masculinity and crime has continuously been stressed. The recently obtained funding of the Research Foundation - Flanders should enable the researcher to further elaborate, update and publish findings from the international review of the existing literature during the next year, followed by a 2-year period of fieldwork and analysis in 3 Belgian prisons, resulting in a PhD dissertation in 2013.
Effective start/end date1/10/0930/09/15


  • Sentencing
  • Pre-Trial Detention
  • Community Policing
  • Restorative Justice
  • Criminal Policy
  • Criminal Law
  • Prison Systems
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Economic Criminality
  • Criminal Procedure

Flemish discipline codes

  • Law and legal studies