Performing Neoliberalism: Stories of care, conformity and resistance within contemporary prison theatre


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis presents a critical exploration of the impact of neoliberal discourses and policies upon the organisation and experience of theatre practice within prisons in England and Wales. It was undertaken in order to bridge the gap between sociological knowledge around the impacts of neoliberalism and performance literature on the value and purpose of prison theatre and to situate prison theatre within the current socio-political context.
This study aimed to develop an understanding of the influence of neoliberalism upon experiences of developing, delivering, and participating in theatre practice in prisons and to identify the ways in which neoliberal discourses and policy have informed prisoners’ and practitioners’ understandings, practices, and performances of care. A narrative approach was used to develop an understanding of the shifting landscape of theatre practice in prisons and the ways in which participants’ sense-making practices around this. Narrative interviews were undertaken with six prison theatre company directors, five freelance prison theatre facilitators and seven former prisoners, and a narrative analysis was used alongside artistic inquiry to understand their stories.
The study uncovered a sense of precarity and unpredictability within prison which can be understood as a ‘carceral volatility’ that both produces and is produced by relational precarity. The mechanisms by which neoliberal governmentality permeates and shapes every aspect of prison theatre, most notably the cultivation of a relational precarity and the co-option of prison theatre into a tool to perform a spectacle which reproduces dominant social narratives are presented in this thesis, alongside key methods found of resisting these impacts such as cultivating connection and considering aesthetics. This thesis also offers a methodological contribution through the presentation of poetry to offer affective senses of both prison, and prison theatre.

Date of Award14 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorMARIAN PEACOCK (Director of Studies) & Vicky Karkou (Supervisor)


  • prison, theatre, neoliberalism, precarity, care, resistance, narrative methods, artistic inquiry

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