Dr Vivien Miller, University of Nottingham


Translating Penal Cultures aims to create a new and unique interdisciplinary research network of UK-based and overseas scholars working on institutions of confinement, practices of crime control, and penal cultures in a range of countries that include Russia, India, China, Mexico, New Zealand, Scandinavia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It aims to promote comparative study, interdisciplinarity, and internationalisation. It draws together researchers from the disciplines of language and linguistics, history, cultural studies, law, criminology, sociology, and translation studies who are currently working on incarcerated populations and institutions of confinement in strategically significant, developing, and established nations. These scholars are keen to develop a broad intercultural and international dialogue on incarcerated populations and carceral institutions and their cultures with other academic researchers and to establish creative links with non-academic partners. Carceral institutions include prisons, workhouses, jails, reformatories, remand centres, asylum-seeker detention centres, the courts, and police. Penal cultures is also defined in its widest sense to include the role of different groups of custodial and non-custodial staff, inmate political and social organisation, and cultural production for example in the form of tattoos, poetry, music, letters of protest and use of contraband.


The network seeks to balance the social science emphasis and legalistic focus of much prison/penal research with a greater emphasis on the fields of history, language and linguistics, and cultural studies. It therefore provides opportunities for Anglophone scholars to envisage their research interests on a broader scale and to work with native-language scholars and other partners in the same geographic region and in contrasting areas. Network research and activities examine the developing language of penality in a variety of cultures and across different time periods and how this connects to the growing globalisation of penal policy and debate of the past 100 years. It applies this knowledge to contemporary security, penal, and crime concerns.


Through its webpage, network meetings, and publications, the network will demonstrate how research into the languages and identities of penality and competing cultures and subcultures within a range of institutions of confinement can shape key policy concerns over crime control, domestic and international security, and penal intervention. Work from this network will provide essential historical and contemporary context for policymakers, social justice campaigners, and educationalists.


Translating Penal Cultures also has a strong East Midlands base. It grows out of collaboration between social historians, language specialists, and cultural studies at the University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, the University of Leicester, and the Open University that builds on existing institutional links with the National Trust-owned Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire, and the Galleries of Justice Museum in Nottingham. Two key events, an informal one-day inaugural network meeting in March 2012, and a more formal two-day research forum in June 2012 will take place at the University of Nottingham. During August 2012, the network proposes to join with the National Trust team at Southwell Workhouse who will host an exhibit on the workhouse in its international context and which incorporates themes of punishment and punished labour.


Dr Vivien Miller

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