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Incarcerated Interactions

A Theory-Driven Analysis of Applied Prison Communication


Edited By Erik D. Fritsvold and Jonathan M. Bowman

Incarcerated Interactions: A Theory-Driven Analysis of Applied Prison Communication is an innovative, applied edited book that uses core interdisciplinary social science theories to analyze and describe the social psychology and sociology of communicative interactions amongst incarcerated individuals. Beginning with the fundamentals of human interactions, this edited volume allows scholars across a variety of disciplines (such as criminology, sociology, communication studies, social psychology, anthropology, and economics) to become familiar with and apply the core principles and the requisite terminology of human communication within a criminological context. Each of the four sections of the text not only build upon the knowledge structures of previous chapters, but also function as stand-alone analyses and/or applications of extant scholarship within essential contexts. From a general discussion of core social science theory to the specific application of that theory in a range of scholarly contexts, this book addresses relevant issues such as mental illness and wellness, the gendered experience of inmates, recidivism rates, violence, the criminogenic effect of incarceration and the large-scale implications of prison gangs and their associated cultural influence, to name a few.

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12. Politeness, Power, & Prison Gangs: Katie Olsen


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12. Politeness, Power, & Prison Gangs


Prison gangs are often defined as prison-based organizations that consist of a group of inmates who have established both hierarchy and rigid rules of behavior in order to continue the continuity of the group and its criminal enterprises (Lyman, 1989). While gang members comprise between 12% and 17% of the prison population (Pyrooz, 2011), a legacy of empirical evidence demonstrates that they are undoubtedly an overwhelmingly powerful force in any incarceration institution.

Both Politeness Theory and various theories of power help to understand both the emergence of prison gangs, the power that they hold both inside and outside of prison, and prison gang norms and structures. Prison gangs have emerged mostly as protective agencies to help inmates navigate the difficult, complex world of their prison sentence. The existence of prison gangs is both a result of the ineffectiveness of the prison system as well as a cause of high recidivism rates and the criminogenic effect of prison.

Politeness & Power

Prison gangs can be understood in terms of both politeness and power. An individual’s self-esteem (their “face”) motivates them to practice politeness “strategies” and is subject to continued threat or validation during the course of any social interaction (Holtgraves, 2002). Actions that threaten a person’s positive or negative face are justly named “Face-Threatening Acts” or FTAs. According to Brown and Levinson (1987), it will generally...

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