The virtual reality of Russian prisons: the impact of social media on prisoner agency and prison structure in Russian prisons

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

Prison agencies around the world are reporting a rise in the use of illicit communication devices in prison. Nevertheless, there is very little prison sociological research into how prisoners themselves communicate online. Using Russia as a case study, this paper reports findings from new research on how prisoners are engaging with the internet and the effects of this on prisoner agency and prison structure. Our main finding is that Russian penality sits at the nexus of two processes. First, it is de-institutionalised in that the prison, discursively speaking, is no longer fixed to a built form. Second, it is reflexively re-territorialised in that it places prisoner agency onto a third space. The paper presents a new conceptual framework of ‘prisoners as absent’, which reflects penality in Russia as culturally contingent and politically resilient. The interplay between de-institutionalisation and re-territorialisation has produced on a new penal imaginary - a carceral motif for the twenty first century - in the form of a virtual world.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
JournalOñati Socio-Legal Series
StateAccepted/In press - 9 Jan 2018

    Research areas

  • Russia, prisoners, agency, social media, absentism

Bibliographical note

Dr Laura Piacentini, FRSE is Professor of Criminology at the School of Social Work and Social Policy and Dr Elena Katz is Senior Teaching Fellow at the School of Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Oxford.

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