The 'Audience That Matters'

Seeing gender as a social construction and as inherently relational in nature, it becomes clear that, when demonstrating masculinity, men perform their masculinity for a particular audience. There are many audiences available to all men to choose from: they may be peers, friends, family, colleagues, superiors, institutions such as the police, and so on; the list is endless. The performances of gender for each audience will be slightly different—we saw this earlier when I reflected upon how men acted with me when alone or when in front of other men. With this in mind, men must make a choice. This may not be a conscious choice, but however the process happens, men ascribe different values to different audiences, and this can change across different periods of an individual’s life. The ‘audience that matters’ to that individual changes. It is such audiences that affect men’s behaviours, and thus such audiences that can influence behaviour. Young men who offend often do so for reputation amongst their peers (Jamieson et al. 1999; Jackson 2002; Barry 2006, 2007; Weaver 2015), and this can be seen in the different perceptions of YOIs relative to adult prisons: men in adult prisons are much less concerned with the views of their peers. Many would link this to the maturation process and the notion of growing out of crime (Glueck and Glueck 1943, 1950, 1968, 1974; Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990), yet this seems like quite a shift for an individual to do on their own. Indeed, why would you change when such changes require great personal alteration?

If, instead, we think that the people whose opinions matter most to that man change and their feelings about him actually matter to him, then we see that to be a good reason why a young man might move away from crime. Many of the men spoken to in this research spoke about having someone that mattered to them—a partner or a child, for instance—who they wanted to get out of prison for, who they wanted to change for. Yes, the growth in social capital beyond young male peers is aligned with the maturation process, but in many cases, it could be argued that maturation happened because of this change in social capital values: because the audience that matters most to the individual changes. This would also explain why those that are married are most likely to desist from crime (Rand 1987; Gibbens 1984; Laub and Sampson 1993; Farington and West 1995; Laub et al. 1998), and why a breakdown in relationships can be quite so devastating for an individual’s desistance pathway (Alleyne and Wood 2011; Cid and Marti 2012; Weaver and McNeill 2015).[1] The notion of audiences that matter also goes some way to explaining why only some men commit crimes: it is audience dependent, and some men consciously recognise and try to address this:

Researcher: You also said that you’re trying to move away into a different area

Logan: Yeah

Researcher: Do you think that’s really important?

Logan: Well it’s a, it’s a fresh start for me [...] Like...a fresh start’s always

good I believe one’s going to know you, no one’s going to judge ya, and you can get on with your life, you’ve got no interferences

Perhaps a greater focus is needed on encouraging an appreciation for the different audiences that matter to individuals in prison—helping those who do not have people that matter to them, and for whom they might want to move away from crime, to find such links. A good probation officer can always turn into an audience that matters, but with heavy caseloads, risk aversion policies, and privatisation processes as they are, the pressures of the job often make such relationships difficult to achieve. That said, it is crucial to recognise that such relationships with others are one of the only choices that men can make autonomously, and so it needs to be respected as such. The social manipulation of relationships and audiences will merely reimpose feminising and infantilising control processes, and such engineered interactions are unlikely to result in the emotional and behavioural investments indented.

  • [1] Many, many thanks to Dr Paula Hamilton for all her help with the desistance literature!
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