Make Sense of Self in Prison Work: Stigma, Agency, and Temporality in a Chinese Women’s Prison

Liu Liu, Wing Hong Chui, Yiqian Hu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In this study, we highlight the temporality of agency as many choices made by incarcerated women are found to be based not only on their evaluation of the present situation but also on their reflections on the past and anticipation of the future. Guided by feminist methodology, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 52 incarcerated women and 13 female prison officers from one Chinese women’s prison. Before entering prison, individuals are already situated in different social positions embedded in a complex intersectionality of class, gender, family, and other social relations. These differences, sometimes huge, among the incarcerated women, complicate the exercise of power in prison. By exploring self-empowerment strategies in the everyday practice of prison labor in the Chinese penal system, we illustrate, through this study, how incarcerated women’s use of language, their body, and family relationships shapes the way they interpret the meaning of prison work, perceive their position, and sustain alternative identities beyond that of an incarcerated individual. It is argued that acknowledgment of the negotiated nature of power should be understood as being intimately connected to the temporality of agency, which reflects a complex dialectic relationship between domination and resistance in both contingent and consistent ways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-139
Number of pages17
JournalAsian Journal of Criminology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Chinese prison
  • Gender
  • Incarcerated women
  • Prison work
  • Relational agency
  • Temporality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Make Sense of Self in Prison Work: Stigma, Agency, and Temporality in a Chinese Women’s Prison'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this