A social-philosophical perspective on Danish prisoners’ education

Anita Riis

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper/skriftligt oplægForskningpeer review


In my ongoing research project, I am looking into whether – and if so then how – education of inmates and former inmates of Danish prisons may contribute in a positive manner to the self-perception of the persons in question. By “positive” I am alluding especially to a self-perception, which is not associated with crime. By virtue of exactly the linking together of self-perception and education, the focus of my study relates closely to the concept of “transformative learning” in which changes within the learner’s identity constitute a central focus.
The empirical methods of this research project consists so far of ten qualitative interviews with prisoners and former prisoners who have responded to questions pertaining to the personal, rights-related and social dimensions of their respective educations. The social-philosophical perspective of Axel Honneth theoretically inspires this division into three dimensions. Eight of the interviewees have completed at least upper secondary school or equivalent and five have embarked on or finished a university education. My focus, thus, is on a group of able people who have or had in common the hope that education will or would help them leave criminal behaviour behind. This hope is in itself only one example of the fact that the learning involved cannot be considered separately of an array of fundamental – and fatal – conditions.
At the conference, I intend to focus on the interviewee’s hard struggle for an identity as “students”. Prison culture is in various ways a big challenge for the inmate who wants to study. First, the application to attend the prison school or to attend an education outside prison - this is often done online and therefore inside prison - has to be accepted by the prison. This acceptance is not always possible. Both the prisoner’s individual problems as well as structural restrictions can be reasons to reject the wish for education. For the prisoners who actually gets the permission to participate in education another struggle related to the prison culture starts. A negative discourse on education among inmates in general – and in some cases among the employees as well - is an experience of all the ten persons I have interviewed. To be able to identify with the role as a student it has been necessary for the interviewees to isolate themselves from the dominant prison culture.
In some cases, it is possible for inmates’ to attend education outside prison and thereby socialize with other students – or “normal students”. Nevertheless my study shows, that outside prison the inmate is now primarily identified as an inmate and not as a student. Identity is constituted by both a person’s self-perception and by other people’s perception of the person in question. This makes it a hard struggle to be both an inmate and a student. At the conference, I will give more examples from my interviews that will elaborate on this dichotomy.
StatusUdgivet - 2016
BegivenhedIntercultural Education at the Crossroads - Eötvös University, Faculty of Education and Psychology, Budapest, Ungarn
Varighed: 5 sep. 20169 sep. 2016


KonferenceIntercultural Education at the Crossroads
LokationEötvös University, Faculty of Education and Psychology


  • Socialt arbejde og sociale forhold