Living Behind Symbolic and Concrete Barriers of Total Institutions: Reflections on the Transition Between a Domestic Symbolic Patriarchal Imprisonment and a Co-Governed, State-Sponsored Incarceration in Perú


This article seeks to analyse the paradox of freedom and imprisonment, reflecting on the connections between and nuances of intimate partner violence and abuse (IPVA) and women’s imprisonment in the Global South, particularly in Perú. The story follows Maria, a woman serving a 14-year sentence for the homicide of her husband, an act she committed after experiencing 20 years of psychological and physical abuse. I have chosen to focus on her ambivalence towards her experience of IPVA, using Goffman’s (1961) concept of the ‘total institution’; I suggest that Maria was living under a patriarchal and symbolic total institution, a prison-like home (Avni 1991). Following this, while imprisoned for the homicide of her husband, Maria was physically incapacitated in a co-governed, patriarchal, nation-state prison. Nevertheless, simultaneously, in this custodial setting, she found a semi-autonomous path to reinforce her sense of agency and to construct interpersonal relationships that have enabled her to question the preceding patriarchal norms.

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Published: 2021-03-01
Pages:52 to 64
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Author Biography

University of Warwick; Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP)
 United Kingdom

I hold a Bachelor degree in Clinical Psychology and a Master's degree in Gender Studies, both from the Pontifical Catholic University of Perú (PUCP). I have concluded my PhD on Women and Gender Studies at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom. I am a member of the Research Group of Forensic and Penitentiary Psychology of the Department of Psychology of the PUCP.  My interests are decolonial feminism and Southern epistemology, and my reserach focuses on the intersection of gender and culture, women’s imprisonment and confinement spaces, gender violence and agency.