The “Rouge” Is Too Rogue: Power Worlds in Women’s Penal Colonies of Russia and Kazakhstan

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Irina Lisovskaya


This article examines two of the largest and very similar penitentiary systems of the former Soviet Union—in Russia and Kazakhstan—in the context of exploring the power dimensions of contemporary women’s prisons. Through the prism of women’s experiences of imprisonment, the author analyses the internal hierarchies among women prisoners who have authority and power in their penal colony, which was delegated to them by the administration of the carceral institution to maintain order. The aim of this article is to show how in the struggle for power women create an internal order with its mechanisms for gaining, retaining, and redistributing authority, as well as to describe what role female corporeality plays in the prison’s dimensions of power. Prison studies have examined prisoners’ agency predominantly in the context of resistance to the prison’s regime. Drawing on a gender approach and the Foucauldian tradition of understanding the nature of power in prison, the article analyses the types of agency that do not fit into this understanding of resistance to prison authorities. The article is based on 29 in-depth interviews with former female prisoners (19 from Russia and 10 from Kazakhstan) who had witnessed important transformations of incarceration regimes in the penitentiary systems of Russia and Kazakhstan in the late 2000s and 2010s. The author identifies several types of agency available to incarcerated women, which are determined by the internal inequalities among prisoners collaborating with the prison administration.

Article in Russian


Agency, Prisoners, Women in Prison, Female Body, Power Structures

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