Caged Emotions: the unprecedented growth of imprisonment and the human toll

Caged Emotions by Ben Laws cover
Dr Ben Laws
Date 18/10/2022 at 17.30 - 18/10/2022 at 19.00 Where Gatsby Room (Chancellor's Centre) & Zoom

What is the emotional experience of prison life? 

Caged Emotions by Ben Laws cover


This talk focuses on the emotional experience of imprisonment in the context of unprecedented growth in the prison estate: a remarkable 26% increase projected by 2026 in England and Wales. What is the human toll of such an increase? 

In no uncertain terms: prisons seethe with emotions and feelings. Bringing together two empirically rigorous studies I will try to explain, using prisoners’ testimonies, the various ways individuals attempt to adapt and control their emotions. There has been a turn towards emotions in the social sciences but this research centralizes the subject of prisoner emotions in a detailed manner. The ethnographic study of feelings has much to contribute to broader debates about survival in prison and pathways to desistence. Most importantly, it emphasizes that 'full-blooded' depictions of prisoners belong at the heart of academic inquiry. 



Dr Ben Laws studied English (BA) at Leicester, Psychology (MSc) at St. Andrews and Criminology (MPhil, PhD) here at Wolfson College, Cambridge. He has professional experience working in a range of mental health settings across the UK and US, mainly supporting those with autistic spectrum conditions (ASCs) and young adults with trauma histories. After his PhD, he completed an ESRC funded project (2019-2021) on male and female prisoner emotions. Ben currently works on an ERC funded project investigating the growing field of ‘nonreligion’, especially in relation to asylum claims. 



This is a hybrid event, which will take place in-person in the Gatsby Room (Chancellor's Centre) and also on Zoom.

If you would like to attend online, please register for the Zoom link.

For the in-person audience, drinks and snacks will be available after the talk.


The Humanities Society organises regular talks spanning a wide range of topics. Every Tuesday during term time.

This event is part of Wolfson Explores GROWTH 2022

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