Reading in Australian prisons: An exploration of motivation

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter explores and critically considers the act of reading and the motivation for it over time as part of the broader experience of the convict in Australian prisons. Two main analytical methods – empirical historical work in archives and contemporary interviews – have been employed to contrast and compare the historical and contemporary convict experience of reading. Consideration of the place of reading in Australian society is nuanced by the value and power vested in this act as a means to construct a civil society in a challenging and remote environment. Most particularly, the power of reading and its significance are amplified when we consider its place and function in the life of the convict, both past and present. An examination of attitudes towards, and motivations for, the provision of books in prisons both past and present provides insight into attitudes to prison reform and the functions of incarceration. Exploration of the significance and motivations underlying reading and the structures supporting and encouraging it provides a touchstone for contrasting and comparing contemporary attitudes to reform with the historic record, allowing for a wider and more critical lens on these debates. As a measure of civil society, the reading environment can provide the scholar of penology with critical perspectives over an extended period on official attitudes to the debate over reform and punishment and the function prisons have in enacting these missions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Edinburgh history of reading
Subtitle of host publicationSubversive readers
EditorsJonathan Rose
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781474461924, 9781474461931
ISBN (Print)9781474461917
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2020


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