School of Social and Political Science

Paper cuts and paper trails: tracing violence in prison administrative processes

10 October 2022
15:30 - 17:00


Violet Laidlaw Room, Chrystal Macmillan Building


This presentation comes out of a current Leverhulme Trust Fellowship exploring the violence of prison that arises specifically from its administrative and bureaucratic dimensions. It focuses on paperwork as a distinctive form of document/ation that produces prisoner experiences of harm. I start by touching on key work (mainly in anthropology), that attends to the power and materiality of paperwork in bureaucratic systems. Then I review the nature, flows and effects of paperwork around a prison to convey its role in governance, pointing out its distinctive material hybridity in a penal setting. This sets up consideration of a specific case in which I analyse the paper trail of a Scottish prisoner sentenced to 40 days’ detention, who ended up serving five years. My aim is to show how bureaucratic violence is unleashed through paper as mode, site and actor.


Bio: Sarah Armstrong, University of Glasgow, is Professor in the Sociology subject and former director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research.

Key speakers

  • Prof Sarah Armstrong