Alternative Learning Systems

9735 Words May 16th, 2011 39 Pages
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Sociology of the Prison Classroom: Marginalized Identities and Sociological Imaginations behind Bars

Teaching Sociology 39(2) 165–178 Ó American Sociological Association 2011 DOI: 10.1177/0092055X11400440 http://ts.sagepub.com

Kylie L. Parrotta1 and Gretchen H. Thompson1

Abstract The authors use sociology of the college classroom to analyze their experiences as feminists teaching sociology courses in the ‘‘unconventional setting’’ of prison. Reflective writing was used to chronicle experiences in the classes. They apply the concepts of doing gender, interaction order, and emotion work to the prison classroom. Based on their analysis, the authors examine the challenges and opportunities for critical education in prison. They
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We faced several barriers in the ‘‘correctional institution,’’ including no access to technology, hostile guards, and lockdowns. The combination of these factors and the variety of life experiences that the men and women have provided a ripe environment for them (and for us) to analyze with their developing sociological imaginations (Mills 1959). At the beginning of the semester in the men’s prison, there were 17 male students enrolled, but during the course of the semester several were transferred to different camps or were released, which left 9 remaining throughout the duration of the semester. Three students were black, 3 were Latino, and 3 were white. Additionally, 1 white student finished on the outside by taking his final exam after being released. The second author, Gretchen, taught an introduction to sociology course at a medium-security women’s prison. At the beginning of the semester there were 14 students enrolled—8 black, 1 Latino, and 5 white. However, only 7 students completed the course— 3 black, 1 Latino, and 3 white. As critical feminist pedagogues (Freire 2000; hooks 1994) and researchers, our goal is to understand oppression and the reproduction of inequality and also the experiences of the people that live it (Kleinman 2007; Schwalbe et al. 2000). Our understanding of oppression stems not only from our theoretical knowledge but also from our shared experiences as marginalized women. This experiential and theoretical
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