Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Sociology


The thesis investigates a specific example of the interdependence between the domestic and the public spheres of social life. Through an examination of the social construction of 'the home' and 'the prison', the thesis examines the argument, from the feminist challenge to the social sciences, that it is the marginaUsation of the domestic and the arbitrary privileging of the public, that maintains the false assumption of the self sustaining nature of public life. The central theme of the thesis is that the contradictory intersection of 'the home' and 'the prison' is a particularly significant example of the tension between interdependence and incompatibility, that characterises the nature of the relationship between domestic and non domestic spheres in other areas of social life. The corollary of this argument is that it is the people in the population 'families of prisoners' who bear the greatest burdens of this contradiction. Moreover, one especially important aspect of the work of 'caring' for prisoners is the invisibility of the range of forms of exploitation and of the personal, social and economic costs that is involved in that work.

The thesis examines the specific ways in which the population 'families of prisoners' has been variously constituted in the several legal, economic and scientific rationalities that construct penal life. Four major models of interdependence between 'the prison and 'the home' are identified in the analysis of these discourses: the 'family in the prison', the home clearly segregated from the prison, the boundaries between 'prison' and 'home' becoming more permeable when the home is constituted as the site of 'resource and resolve' and most recently, 'the home' as the site of imprisonment and control. It is in the work of the social scientific constructions of 'families of prisoners' that these last two models have been most closely defined. By drawing on the work of three approaches to social analysis, the feminist materialist critique of social policy, the radical critique of penality and the feminist analysis of criminology, the thesis develops nine major propositions about the impact of these variously constructed intersections of 'the home' and 'the prison' on the actual day to day lives of the people in the population 'families of prisoners'. It is especially in the contradictions between these various intersections that the work of caring has to be carried out. It is this contradictory nature of the work of caring for imprisoned men that is associated with the condensed nature of the inequality that is experienced by the people in the population 'families of prisoners'.

Through an examination of the penal poUcies and practices operating in N.S.W. in the 1980s and fi-om interviews with thirty eight people who have family obligations to imprisoned men in N.S.W., the thesis demonstrates firstly, that that obligation leads to an extensive but hidden provision of unpaid labour. Secondly, that obligation to care also commits the carers to major economic and physical costs. Thirdly, the commitment to care then implicates the carers in the network of punishment and control that operates both within the prisons and in various forms of community control in N.S.W.