‘We were there too’: There is much to learn from embedding auto/biography in the knowing and doing of prison research

Geraldine Brown, Elizabeth Bos

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Within the social sciences there is a wealth of literature that examines the challenges and ethical dilemmas encountered by researchers in conceptualising, conducting and understanding their research (Hendrix, 2002, Letherby, 2003, 2013). In this paper we share our reflections on experiences we encountered carrying out a qualitative evaluation of a prison gardening intervention with male substance misusing offenders. Our aim is to suggest that there is much we can gain when researchers engage in a process of reflexivity, which includes consideration to the intersection of identity of the researcher, the researched and the forces, of various kinds, operating upon and within such situations (Hammersley and Trainou, 2012). As such, here we share our fieldwork experiences and shed light on how, for us, the evaluation was a subjective, power-laden, emotional, embodied experience (Letherby, 2013). We highlight how a human geographer and a sociologist working as part of a multi-disciplinary evaluation team encountered issues associated with choices in terms of how we conduct our work, the emotional labour expended and how we had to assume both chosen and imposed identities. We have been challenged to consider and reflect upon aspects of gender, class, age, and professional status throughout our research experience, with the ‘researched’ and between the ‘researchers’. Finally, we suggest that embarking on qualitative research in a prison setting is an outcome of complex negotiations, but in theorising our subjectivities (Letherby, 2013) is a means of illuminating issues that often remain invisible within prison research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalMethodological Innovations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

This article is available under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC license and permits non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Prison
  • fieldwork
  • reflective practice
  • horticulture
  • substance misuse

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    An Evaluation of the Master Gardener Programme at HMP Rye Hill: An Horticultural Intervention with Substance Misusing Offenders

    Brown, G., Bos, E., Brady, G. M., Kneafsey, M. R. & Glynn, M., 5 May 2016, In : Prison Service Journal. 225, May 2016, p. 45-51

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