First Advisor

Melissa Thompson

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Habitus, (Re)integration, Inequality, Pierre Bourdieu -- 1930-2002, Imprisonment -- Social aspects -- United States, Prisons -- United States -- Sociological aspects, Prisoners -- Deinstitutionalization -- United States, Social integration -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 196 p.) : ill.


Sociologists of punishment generally agree that the American prison exacerbates social inequality, but the mechanisms by which it does so remain somewhat fuzzy. This thesis pulls from the tradition of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), a canonical theorist of power and inequality, and specifically his three "thinking tools" of field, capital, and habitus, to unveil these mechanisms. Empirically, I turn to ethnographic data I collected in a minimum-security men's prison that is generally reserved for convicts who will be released to one of the three most populated counties in Oregon. I explore how soon-to-be-released prisoners (i.e., prisoners who will be released within six months) understand and prepare for their exit. Data suggest most prisoners approaching release want to adopt an honest working class style of living, and that many take proactive steps they perceive as likely to increase their chances of accessing this lifestyle (sometimes called the "straight life"). However, I argue that any (re)integrative potential emerging from these conscious and interest-oriented strategies are at risk of being trumped by two processes I title "capital erosion" and "habitus adjustment." I frame these as unintended, but nevertheless strong, consequences of imprisonment. Ultimately, I suggest imprisonment worsens existing patterns of inequality by means of draining power from the nearly powerless and disintegrating the poorly integrated.


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Portland State University. Dept. of Sociology

Persistent Identifier