Uncovering the Hidden Social World: Insider Research in Prison

Document Type




Format of Original

13 p.

Publication Date



Sage Publications

Source Publication

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1177/104398629501100203


The prison setting provides researchers with specific challenges that must be considered prior to conducting a study. This paper addresses some of these challenges and provides an argument for why the use of a qualitative methodological approach may be the best strategy for what Marquardt (1986) refers to as "penetrating the back-stage prison behavior settings." Specifically, this paper provides a brief discussion of the different types of research methods that have been used to study the prison. Secondly, we will address the strengths and weaknesses of a qualitative methodological approach to studying the prison. Third, we will provide as an exemplar an unique approach to the study of prisons, namely an ethnographic study that utilized a complete participant (inmate-sociologist) and an outside observer (sociology professor) as a way of achieving an insider's understanding while maintaining an outsider's objectivity. The paper concludes with a discussion of alternative ways of achieving insider knowledge of the prison social world.


Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 11, No. 2 (May 1995): 106-118. DOI.