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Reading the Signs: Institutional Interpretations of Bodily Text in a Culture of Risk, Blame and Acco

Date: 15 May 2007 Time: 1.00 pm

Literacy Research Centre Seminar Series Tuesday 15 May 2007 (Week 4)1-2 pm, Meeting Room 2INSTITUTE FOR ADVANCED STUDIESReading the Signs: Institutional Interpretations of Bodily Text in a Culture of Risk, Blame and AccountabilityAnita Wilson, Lancaster UniversityWhile considerable emphasis is (quite rightly) placed on keeping a record of incidences of suicide and self-harm in prison, the secret and enclosed nature of incarceration does not lend itself to the recognition of the number of prisoners who are saved from serious injury by the daily interventions of prison staff. Furthermore, while generic Prison Service training includes stringent protocols for dealing with completed suicide and serious self-harm, the day to day assessment of prisoners' vulnerabilities falls within the catch-all task of 'being a prison officer', both supported and hindered by mounds of institutional paperwork. Close ethnographic work, conducted over a number of years with some of the most vulnerable members of the prison population, shows an even more complex and textually-diverse milieu. On the one hand, the institution holds to a belief in the protective powers of correctly completed official bureaucracy, placing total emphasis on the generic texts of risk and responsibility. On the other hand, prison officers see such paperwork as a necessary evil but also as a barrier to face to face work with at-risk prisoners. For them, 'reading the signs' of bodily scars, interpreting the atmospheric text of 'you can feel trouble in the air' or de-coding a scribbled 'cry for help' figure more strongly in the day to day textually-mediated diagnosis of preventing self-injury. This discussion seeks to broaden out our understanding of 'texts' by bringing in the visual and the ephemeral as a way further expanding our notion of the place and significance of literacies in everyday life.Ethical Note: Self-harm is an emotive topic so you might like to be aware that while this discussion takes self-harm as its starting point, the emphasis will be on the interpretation and significance of text-related issues not on the act of self-harm itself].

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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