“Do your whack”
: Investigating the needs and experiences of young men imprisoned in Northern Ireland through the lens of critical masculinities studies

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Based on a nine-month ethnographic study of a young offenders’ institution in Belfast this thesis explores the needs and experiences of young men imprisoned in Northern Ireland through the lens of critical masculinities studies. The Prison Review Team has described Hydebank, and young adult (aged 18-24) male offenders within, as the “forgotten group in the Northern Ireland prison system” and stated that the level of resources made available to this group are significantly less than for other prisons and prisoners (PRTa, 2011: 70). Moreover, studies exploring the unique nature of masculinities within the Northern Ireland context have identified that young men’s masculinities are being constructed in “hostile and dangerous environments” (Ashe and Harland, 2014: 755) and young men are experiencing a “sense of alienation, perceived normality of violence, unwelcomed interactions with paramilitary members and restrictive notions of masculinity” (Harland and McCready, 2014: 1).

The ethnographic research on which this thesis is based pairs methods of participant observation and semi-structured interviews. The unprecedented access gained to the institution provided the researcher with the opportunity to visit Hydebank four times a week over a nine-month period, spending time with the young men in educational classes, vocational training, recreational activities and association times. This facilitated observation into how traditional elements of masculinity such as bravado and machismo play out in a group dynamic, but also provided valuable insight into young men’s subjective perspectives of imprisonment uncovering vulnerabilities such as bullying, mental health issues and struggles with substance misuse and addiction, issues young men often do not feel comfortable expressing in a group situation.

The unique access gained to Hydebank, coupled with the strong rapport built between the researcher and the young men, has provided this thesis with rich findings. The findings consider: how elements of post-conflict Northern Ireland society shape masculinities prior to prison; how young men experience institutional power; young men’s temporal experiences of prison; and how sources of vulnerability affect young men in prison.
Date of AwardMar 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorFidelma Ashe (Supervisor) & Linda Moore (Supervisor)


  • Prison
  • Masculinities
  • Young Men
  • Northern Ireland

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