Familiarity and strangeness: Seeing everyday practices of punishment and resistance in Holloway Prison

AuthorCarly Guest,Rachel Seoighe
Published date01 July 2020
Date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Familiarity and
strangeness: Seeing
everyday practices
of punishment
and resistance in
Holloway Prison
Carly Guest
Middlesex University, UK
Rachel Seoighe
University of Kent, UK
London’s Holloway Prison, the largest women’s prison in western Europe, closed in
2016. The impact of the closure on the women incarcerated in Holloway,and the prison’s
place in the local community, is the focus of a projectled by Islington Museum. Here, we
develop an innovation, emotion-led methodology to explore photographs of the decom-
missioned Holloway, asking what theycommunica te about experiences of imprisonment
and practices of punishment. The images illustrate the strategies of control, mechanisms
of punishment and tactics of resistance that operate through the carceral space. From a
feminist, anti-carceral perspective, we emphasise the importance of seei ng prison spaces
and attending to the emotional responses generated. We offer a creative intervention
into dominant government and media narratives of Holloway’s closure and suggest that
considering what it is that feels familiar and strange about carceral spaces has the poten-
tial to operate as a form of anti-carceral work.
anti-carceral, emotion, Holloway, imprisonment, punishment, resistance, women
Corresponding author:
Carly Guest, Middlesex University, The Burroughs, London NW4 4BT, UK.
Email: c.guest@mdx.ac.uk
Punishment & Society
2020, Vol. 22(3) 353–375
!The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474519883253
In 2016, Holloway Prison, Europe’s largest prison for women, and one of its most
iconic, closed. This closure should be understood in the context of the UK govern-
ment’s policy of relocating urban prisons to rural locations as a cost saving, ‘mod-
ernising’ and expansive project (Moore and Scraton, 2014: 12).
Over the years,
Rock (1996: 262) observes, Holloway ‘moved precariously and rapidly through a
succession of political systems, the quest for authority sometimes veering more
towards winning the acquiescence of the incarcerated, sometimes more towards
the application of force.’ In this paper, we offer a reading of photographs of
Holloway post-closure, arguing that they illustrate particular strategies of control,
mechanisms of punishment and tactics of resistance in the carceral space. Adopting
an anti-carceral feminist perspective (Carlton, 2016; Davis, 2005), we question the
expansion and naturalisation of the prison system and the state’s increasingly puni-
tive dependence upon it. The reliance on prison to address social problems requires
interrogation (Davis, 2005). Anti-carceral perspectives necessitate looking different-
ly and becoming attuned to the simultaneous strangeness and familiarity of everyday
materialities of incarceration, challenging its apparent inevitability. We contribute to
the anti-carceral project by offering a reading of four photographs of Holloway that
force us to imagine everyday life in its restrictive, punitive and limiting conditions.
Visual representations of carceral spaces can offer powerful critique (Brown,
2014; Carrabine, 2012) and a means of doing anti-carceral work. Whilst the
Anglo-American prison is readily consumed in film and television (Carrabine,
2012), its audience often has little experience of imprisonment (Brown, 2009). By
revealing the bareness of the institution and the efforts required by women to survive
where the state provides so little, these photographs ‘make visible that which would
be unseen’ (Code, 2014: 19–21, in McNaull, 2017) and counter the ‘holiday camp’
narrative often perpetuated by mainstream media (Marsh, 2009). Photographs sit at
the intersection of the personal and social (Kuhn, 1995), these of Holloway depict an
institutional, state-owned and private, intimate space. The intimate and everyday
lives of incarcerated women are shaped and controlled by prison architecture, rou-
tines and institutional powers, inseparable from social practices of punishment,
control and surveillance. We contribute to this understanding by engaging directly
with visual traces of the carceral space. It is important to acknowledge and keep in
mind the absence of imprisoned women in the photographs we discuss – our aim is
not to over-determine or voice women’s experiences, but to offer a feminist, anti-
carceral reading of the photographs. This facilitates a move beyond the narratives of
women prisoners as ‘victims’ or ‘monsters’, to women as people getting on with their
daily lives in the difficult and constraining conditions of prison.
Radical reform, selective histories
The history of Holloway, its founding, development, consolidation and now clo-
sure encapsulates the contemporary history of women’s imprisonment in the UK
354 Punishment & Society 22(3)

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