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Musical communities in the society of captives: Exploring the impact of music making on the social world of prison

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jats:pThis article examines the ways in which music making can inspire and facilitate social change amongst the “society of captives.” It explores the social dynamics of prison music projects, and then looks at the ways in which music making can begin to transform the wider social world of prison. It reports a qualitative investigation of two such projects delivered by the Irene Taylor Trust (ITT) in a medium-security, adult male prison in England. Methods comprised participant observations of the projects over a period of 14 months, and semi-structured interviews with prisoner participants, facilitators, and members of prison staff.</jats:p>jats:pMuch research shows that taking part in prison music projects can help participants develop social skills and thus contribute to their rehabilitation and desistance from crime. The present study revealed that the ITT projects were not merely the setting for learning individual social skills; the participants also felt themselves to be joining or forming a community that was distinct from the wider prison community. The impact of their musical activities on their lives in prison was as important to them as its potential contribution to their lives following release. The findings are discussed with reference to the work of DeNora, suggesting that music projects can provide the setting for removal communities, with norms distinct from and better than those of typical social life in prison, and can transform or refurnish the wider prison environment, as participants continue their music making on the landings and in their cells.</jats:p>



Music, prison, musical communities, song writing, pains of imprisonment, removal activities

Journal Title

Musicae Scientiae

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SAGE Publications


Embargo: ends 2021-06-19
Midlands3Cities AHRC DTP (AH/L50385X/1)