Rules of Engagement: Structuring Sex and Damage in Men's Prisons and Beyond


Gear, Sasha. 2005. “Rules of Engagement: Structuring Sex and Damage in Men’s Prisons and Beyond.” In Men Behaving Differently: Men in South Africa Since 1994, edited by Graeme Reid and Liz Walker, 89–110. Cape Town, South Africa: Double Storey Books.

Author: Sasha Gear


This paper analyses data from a recent study of ex-prisoners and prisoners in Gauteng Province, South Africa, to consider the moral economy established by hegemonic inmate culture in which sexual interactions are negotiated. It argues that while this system is based on outside norms of heterosexism, ruptures with these norms occur. Male prison populations are rearranged into gendered categories through intricate inmate rituals, causing dramatic breaks in the ways that some prisoners are understood by others and themselves. The rituals and rules involved in the constructions appear to be unfamiliar from an 'outside' perspective, but have roots beyond prison walls. Similarly, the gendered positions generated are distinct from those they imitate, but also emerge in relation to them, beyond mere imitation. Even as new structures of identity emerge then, breaks with the outside are never total. Neither is the hold of the moral economy that inmate culture works so hard to create. Another order of rupture happens when prisoners transgress the rules of this economy, and subvert the meanings on which both the oppressive gender-sex status quo of the inside and that of the outside, rely.

Topics: Gender, Men, Sexuality Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2005

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