‘Doing’ Coercion in Male Custodial Settings: An Ethnography of Italian Prison Officers Using Force, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

‘Doing’ Coercion in Male Custodial Settings

An Ethnography of Italian Prison Officers Using Force, 1st Edition

By Luigi Gariglio


206 pages | 31 B/W Illus.

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This book offers a sustained study of one feature of the prison officer’s job: the threat and use of force, which the author calls ‘doing’ coercion. Adopting an interactionist, micro-sociological perspective, the author presents new research based on almost two years of participant observation within an Italian custodial complex hosting both a prison and a forensic psychiatric hospital.

Based on observation of emergency squad interventions during so-called ‘critical events’, together with visual methods and interviews with staff, ‘Doing’ Coercion in Male Custodial Settings constitutes an ethnographic exploration of both the organisation and the implicit and explicit practices of threatening and/or ‘doing’ coercion. With a focus on the lawful yet problematic and discretionary threatening and 'doing’ of coercion performed daily on the landing, the author contributes to the growing scholarly literature on power in prison settings, and the developing field of the micro-sociology of violence and of radical interactionism.

As such, it will appeal to scholars of sociology, anthropology and criminology with interests in prisons, power and violence in institutions, and visual methods.


'In this fine-grained study of a correctional facility and a forensic psychiatric hospital focusing on critical situations, Luigi Gariglio shows that while inmates are doing time, officers are doing coercion. In Erving Goffman’s lineage, he makes a remarkable contribution to the growing domain of prison ethnography and provides important clues to the understanding of violence in custodial institutions.' - Didier Fassin, Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and author of Prison Worlds: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition

'Doing Coercion is a very intriguing book for many reasons. It is an ethnography carried out in a context where it is not easy to gain access and find a proper role to remain with profit. The book triumphs in tackling a very thorny topic, namely the use of force in the daily activity of prison officers, without ethical or political prejudices. In coping with all these methodological and theoretical challenges, the author utterly succeeds.' - Mario Cardano, Turin University, Italy

'We are witnessing a prison ethnography revival. This book is a careful and engaging study of the use of power in an Italian prison. It presents a unique exploration (a ‘micro-sociology’) of the lawful yet morally problematic use of force. The author is creative and imaginative in his use of methods and scholarly in his approach to the subject. He sheds new light on the ‘traumatic and complex world’ of the prison.' - Alison Liebling, University of Cambridge, UK

'In this personal account, sociologist and photographer Luigi Gariglio muses on the nature of coercion […]. The result of extensive ethnographic research, that combined observation, semi-structured interviews and photo elicitation, this book offers a rare glimpse of life inside these high security establishments. In its focus on Italy, it also extends the prisons literature, outside its usual Anglo-American circuit.' - Mary Bosworth, University of Oxford, UK

Table of Contents

Foreword by Mary Bosworth


1. Introduction

2. ‘Doing’ coercion: a micro-sociology bricolage

3. Peacemaking and beyond: the prison officer's everyday duties

4. The bureaucratic organization of ‘doing’ coercion

5. Implicit coercion logic

6. The symbolic and credible threat of force

7. The use of force

8. Notes from my visual ethnographic diary

9. Methodological afterthoughts

10. Conclusion: on prison officers and (good) violence


About the Author

Luigi Gariglio gained his PhD in Sociology at the University of Milan, and is Research Fellow at the University of Turin, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society. He has been teaching and researching in Sociology, Sociology of Communication, Visual Studies and Visual Research Methods. He was Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford, Centre for Criminology.

About the Series

Interactionist Currents

Interactionist Currents
Interactionist Currents publishes contemporary interactionist works of exceptional quality to advance the state of symbolic interactionism. Rather than revisiting classical symbolic interactionist or pragmatist theory, however, this series extends the boundaries of interactionism by examining new empirical topics in subject areas that interactionists have not sufficiently examined; systematizing, organizing, and reflecting on the state of interactionist knowledge in subfields both central and novel within interactionist research; connecting interactionism with contemporary intellectual movements; and illustrating the contemporary relevance of interactionism in ways that are interesting, original, and enjoyable to read. Recognizing an honored and widely appreciated theoretical tradition, reflecting on its limitations, and opening new opportunities for the articulation of related perspectives and research agendas, this series presents work from across the social sciences that makes explicit use of interactionist ideas and concepts, interactionist research, and interactionist theory - both classical and contemporary.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General