Space-making in women’s prisons: personal performance testimonies of ‘doing bird’

Walsh, Aylwyn (2012) Space-making in women’s prisons: personal performance testimonies of ‘doing bird’. In: Personal and Political Symposium, Sept 14 2012, University of Northampton.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


In this account of research with women in prison, I make use of de Certeau’s distinction between ‘place’ and ‘space’ since he conceives of the shifting purpose of sites. This notion is repeatedly invoked in prisoner’s testimonials of how moments in prisons which engage imagination (such as art workshops and writing) are ‘liberating’ or ‘legal escapes’. In other words, there is a functional difference between space and place, in which purposive acts and performances re-map the subjectivities of both sites and subjects. For de Certeau, what is important is a ‘process whereby stories thus carry out a labour that constantly transforms places into spaces or spaces into places’ (1984: 117 – 118).

The paper recounts such ‘stories’ from my own practice with women in prison. I explore both accounts of theatre practice and reflexive practitioner journals in order to examine the temporal and spatial stage of a closed women’s prison. HMP Drake Hall is the ‘field’ (informed by economic and political dynamics); read against the ‘event’ - a particular theatre-based programme with women conducted over three months. The women’s aesthetic narratives developed in workshops are considered alongside their everyday performances of regulation, adaptation, deprivation and resistance.

In this study I do not wish to perpetuate the currency of women as victims of circumstance, nor do I wish to engage in the frenzied debate on women’s crime and behaviour (both of which reduce and erase agency in favour of banal cause/effect argumentation). Rather, I make use of the time/space caesura of incarceration as a means of moving away from the above stereotypes to the untold stories of a marginalised group.

Additional Information:Winner of the IFTR/FIRT (International federation of Theatre Research) Helsinki Prize in 2013
Keywords:Women in Prison, Performance ethnography
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W490 Drama not elsewhere classified
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
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ID Code:7631
Deposited On:23 Feb 2013 14:26

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