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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“Calculating females”: Incarcerated women, correctional education, and the struggle for self-preservation
by Oppenheim, Rachel Leffler, Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University, 2010, 420; 3425013
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of this study was to investigate the discourses circulating in educational settings in a women's jail. Using qualitative, ethnographic methods and employing feminist poststructuralism as a theoretical framework, I explored how incarcerated women were represented and represented themselves and the ways that participants both took up and resisted dominant depictions. I performed participant observations, conducted in-depth interviews, collected texts that women produced in their classes, and gathered official documents in order to explore how the institutional space operated upon those confined within its walls, focusing on the complex interplay of power, control, and coercion and investigating how gender specifically shaped the experiences of female inmates. An important focus of this study was a group of alternative classes provided by a volunteer organization. I asked what possibilities this space held for disrupting fixed and binary depictions of incarcerated women and I also examined how it might perpetuate such depictions.

I found that, within the institutional setting, power operated in complex ways and participants employed numerous physical and psychological strategies in order to preserve their safety and uphold their self-conceptions as decent, agentic, and legitimate beings within a repressive environment and in spite of a plethora of images that painted them as reprehensible. Focusing on educational settings, I found that different stakeholders entered the correctional classroom with different fantasies about how it should operate and what objectives it should accomplish. Those fantasies dictated pedagogical and curricular enactments and shaped the way that incarcerated students were positioned. I found that, even within an "alternative" educational setting, certain traditional relations of power were reproduced, but possibilities also emerged for such settings to disrupt status quo practices and conceptions. This study points to the need to reconceptualize correctional education, to infuse it with creative, engaging curricula, and to re-imagine its aspirations. Rather than simply focusing on "changing" individuals, jail and prison classrooms can help to render intelligible women's various subjectivities and to recognize that those subjectivities are ever-changing, multiple, and malleable. In so doing, it can work to expand possibilities and re-imagine the positions that incarcerated women occupy.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lesko, Nancy
School: Teachers College, Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 71/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Instructional Design, Multicultural Education, Curriculum development
Keywords: Correctional education, Incarcerated women, Prison education
Publication Number: 3425013
ISBN: 978-1-124-25387-9
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