University of Sussex
Riley,_Michael_J.pdf (19.9 MB)

Representations of sexual practice and identity in men's prisons since the 1950s in the UK and the US

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posted on 2023-06-08, 19:07 authored by Michael J Riley
In this thesis I propose that the representation of the prison is an untapped and valuable resource for non-traditional representations of the queered male, homo-sex and sexualities. I draw together texts on prison and sexuality from the 1800s to the 2000s in order to discuss the representation of prison in light of what it adds to a wider historical understanding of sexuality. The thesis is broadly chronological in form, analysing academic and theoretical texts in context alongside popular cultural representations. I reassess the ways in which sexuality is viewed and understood over time, and place homosexuality within the framework of wider male sexuality as represented in the prison. I theorise a re-imagining of homosexuality within normative male sexuality and I challenge the concept of ‘situational sex’ through the complex issues behind understandings of sex in prison. My research methodology includes close textual analysis of representations of prison in literature, film and television alongside academic and theoretical texts on sexuality, gender and queer theory. Each chapter focuses on specific cultural texts, including Against the Law (1957), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Short Eyes (1977), Scum (1977, 1979) and Oz (1997-2003). By drawing the representations and the theories together I am able to provide a re-reading of the texts within a recognition of sexual fluidity and the reclassification of heterosexual males and gender hierarchies. In my research I argue that the representation of sex in prison re-writes sexuality and contributes to a reading of the queering potential of the cultural representation of prison. With this method I challenge conventional understandings of sexuality as well as perceptions of how male sexuality is viewed in popular culture. I argue that the cultural representation of the prison is a site of queer potentiality in form, idea and context and is a means to re-imagine male sexuality.


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  • Media and Film Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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