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Constructing Masculine Identity and Performance in the Carceral Social Order

Thu, Nov 16, 2:00 to 3:20pm, Marriott, Room 302, 3rd Floor


This paper examines how teenage boys’ perceptions and embodiments of masculinity are shaped by their exposure to – and anticipation of – multiple forms of violence in the criminal justice system. Analyzing ethnographic data collected from two juvenile justice facilities, I argue that as boys learn to navigate punitive institutions, they are socialized to protect their physical safety and dignity by constructing masculinity performances that project a capacity for violence. Similar to Anderson’s “code of the streets” (1999), these performances are intended to shield boys from harm by helping them to resist the perception of vulnerability and to dissuade others from challenging them as weak targets. But in preparing boys to manage the types of violence encountered in the system – the institutionalization of carceral rivalries, the use of physical force and intimidation by law enforcement, and the possibility of sexual assault in penal institutions – these performances not only become part of how boys learn to embody racial and geographic identities, but also how they learn to claim positions within a hegemonic gender binary. The socialization of this carceral masculinity subsequently establishes the ability to successfully manage incarcerated life as a lens through which criminalized boys learn to recognize and gauge masculinity.


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