Performing (for) survival: performance tactics of incarcerated women

  • Alwyn Mae Walsh

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In an era characterised by impacts of cuts and austerity in the UK, this study is positioned at the interface between two socio-cultural institutions against which societies are judged: the arts and criminal justice. Within this field, the thesis investigates the ways women in prison are positioned in a carceral performance that is cyclical and inevitably ‘tragic’. The argument considers the tactics women use in order to firstly, survive their incarceration, and sometimes, resist, the institution. The theoretical frame is drawn from feminist criminology and Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’ to examine everyday performances as well as theatrical works by and about incarcerated women. This project adds to the field by locating performance practices in and of prison within wider social contexts of the politics of carceral spaces. The main questions posed by this project were ‘what does theatre/ performance offer to challenge stereotypes of ‘the cage’?; and to what extent and in what ways does performance in (and of) prison challenge/ subvert/ augment/ transform the site itself’? The research sought to understand to what extent women’s articulations of subjectivity could be a radical alternative to the logocentric and discursive prisons of sentences and prison records. The study was developed as an ethnographic examination of performance in and of prison, alongside exploring how contemporary performance modes are implicated in defining, containing, and correcting (criminal) women’s everyday performances. The thesis is primarily concerned with a critical reflection on theatre practices in prison, with particular emphasis on the political implications of the effects of prison as/and performance. The study makes claims for a radical practice in and about prisons that is distanced from current applied theatre practices, and as such points towards a more troubled rehearsal of how punishment is performed.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorPatrick Duggan (Supervisor) & Victor Ukaegbu (Supervisor)

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