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Review 1 of "Entering without breaking: Challenges and strategies of the qualitative criminologist investigating carceral spaces"


Published onJan 12, 2022
Review 1 of "Entering without breaking: Challenges and strategies of the qualitative criminologist investigating carceral spaces"

Vote: Reject

[For votes to count, referees must reasonably explain why they voted as they did. Thus, please explain your vote. If you voted to publish pending minor changes, specify each change, why it is needed, and, possibly, how it should/could be done.]

I appreciated the opportunity to review this paper, and I think there are several ways to revise the paper so that it makes a unique contribution. As it stands, however, I don’t believe it quite meets QC’s threshold for “accept with minor revisions.” I want to emphasize that I do not intend to discourage the author from pursuing publication of this paper because I do believe that revising it to strengthen its contribution is entirely possible. I hope my comments are helpful to the author in that regard.

The biggest issue that I perceived with the paper is that it repeats a lot of what we already know from existing research on the practical challenges of conducting prison research. We know, for example, about the difficulties with gaining access to prisons (Umamaheswar, 2014, 2018), interviewing in prisons (Schlosser, 2008), establishing oneself as legitimate in the prison setting (Ellis, 2021), and confronting the emotional challenges of conducting prison research (Crewe, 2014; Garrihy and Watters, 2020). In fact, there is a recently-published entire anthology devoted to the challenges that women scholars face in conducting prison research (Schlosser, 2020).  I think the author’s very limited review of the methodological literature on qualitative prison research is misleading because it overlooks just how much has been done already.

Ordinarily, I would recommend simply including more of these citations, but in this case, I think the issue is that many of these sources have already said much of what the author discusses in the article, which means that incorporating the ideas from this body of work would require a significant reframing of the article. If the author would like to undertake this reframing, I would really encourage them to focus in particular on the notion of spatial constraints in prison research. I think applying the carceral geography lens to understanding the unique challenges of prison research is interesting, and I don’t believe many researchers have analyzed these challenges by emphasizing spatial constraints. I found that section of the article very interesting, and I think elaborating on this specific dimension of prison research could make a very compelling article.

As a separate note, I think many researchers no longer believe that prisons are “opaque” in the way that the author suggests (see Ellis, 2021) and I also don’t think it is quite right to suggest that the opacity of prison walls has been penetrated once inside. Returning to the theme of spatial constraints, I think we very often get a very narrow and specific version of the “inside” world of prisons when we enter as researchers, and unless we are allowed relatively free reign in the prison (as in Ugelvik’s [2014] work, for instance), I don’t think we ever really penetrate prison. Perhaps the author would like to reconsider the notion of opacity in this section.

Finally, in revising the article, I encourage the author to temper their suggestions a little to recognize the specific geopolitical context in which they conducted their research. Access to prisons, our ability to immerse ourselves fully within them as researchers, and prisoner-researcher-staff dynamics all vary quite significantly across the world. Much of what the author wrote about resonated with me, but I do not think these lessons and suggestions necessarily carry over to other international contexts.

Again, I wish to reiterate that I do not believe that this paper has no promise. I believe there are important ideas to be distilled here, but I think the author should make a stronger effort to situate their article in the broader research on the challenges of doing prison research. I wish the author the best of luck in revising their paper. 


Crewe, B. (2014). Not looking hard enough: Masculinity, emotion, and prison research. Qualitative Inquiry20(4), 392-403.

Ellis, R. (2021). Prisons as porous institutions. Theory and Society50(2), 175-199.

Ellis, R. (2021). What do we mean by a “hard-to-reach” population? Legitimacy versus precarity as barriers to access. Sociological Methods & Research, 0049124121995536.

Garrihy, J., & Watters, A. (2020). Emotions and agency in prison research. Methodological Innovations13(2), 2059799120926341.

Schlosser, J. A. (2008). Issues in interviewing inmates: Navigating the methodological landmines of prison research. Qualitative inquiry14(8), 1500-1525.

Schlosser, J. A. (2020). A Woman’s Place. Prison Stories: Women Scholars’ Experiences Doing Research Behind Bars, 35.

Ugelvik, T. (2014). Prison ethnography as lived experience: Notes from the diaries of a beginner let loose in Oslo Prison. Qualitative Inquiry20(4), 471-480.

Umamaheswar, J. (2014). Gate keeping and the politics of access to prisons: Implications for qualitative prison research. Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice & Criminology.

Umamaheswar, J. (2018, September). Studying homeless and incarcerated persons: A comparative account of doing field research with hard-to-reach populations. In Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research (Vol. 19, No. 3).


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