Fragile moralities and dangerous sexualities : a case study of 'deviant' women and semi-penal institutionalisation on Merseyside, 1823-1994
This thesis is primarily concerned with the social control and disciplining of women within a semi-penal institution. As a case study it critically analyses the history of one particular institution from 1823 to 1994, chronicling its development from a nineteenth century female reformatory to a twentieth century bail and probation hostel for women. Through an analysis of this history, the thesis fulfils three aims. First, it explicitly identifies the themes of continuity and discontinuity in the history of semi-penal institutionalisation, and thus contributes significantly to the feminist theoretical literature by establishing this oft forgotten arena as a significant site of social control for 'deviant' women, placed somewhere between the formal control of the prison and the informal regulation of the domestic sphere. Second, it deconstructs the dominant, hegemonic discourses around domesticity, respectability, motherhood, sexuality and pathology that have been mobilised to both define 'deviance' in women and to construct semi-penal institutional regimes aimed at reforming deviant behaviour. This analysis also makes an important contribution to this field of study in that it confirms that the discourses utilised to characterise and discipline women in reformatories during the nineteenth century, continue to be mobilised for the same purpose in a probation hostel nearly two hundred years later. In recognising this fact, the thesis dismantles the popular notion that such institutions are unproblematic simply because they are 'not custodial'. Finally, the thesis analyses the way in which women cope with or resist the disciplinary regimes and discourses imposed upon them. It concludes that women utilise a range of strategies through which they can re-gain and re-assert a sense of agency and authority within a regime that, whilst claiming to 'empower', actually serves to induce submission in women and to `infantilise' them, reducing them to a less-than-adult status. Through an examination of these strategies of resistance and coping it becomes apparent that the distribution of power in the semi-penal institution is not fixed, but can be subtly negotiated and redistributed. This thesis therefore complements and adds to the existing body of literature around women's resistance to custodial regimes by highlighting that these methods of survival are not only to be found in prisons but in semi-penal institutions also.