Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Lewis Simpson

An Inquiry into Contemporary Total Institutions: Are Prisons Modern?

This PhD will be an inquiry into Total Institutions (TI) in contemporary British Society. It will bring up-to-date the sociology of TI as presented by Erving Goffman in Asylums (1961) and also update the study of institutional arrangements offered by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish (1975), by applying Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity (2000) as a framework of analysis. By carrying out this research I will contribute to debates surrounding the sociology of institutions, the sociology of modernity and also the field of penology, as this research will focus on one particular TI; the prison, as this can be argued as a typical type of TI. This PhD will explore two main aims; firstly, to develop a new interpretation of TI by analysing their characteristics, using contemporary theoretical perspectives to detail the operation involved in today’s institutions. Secondly, this research will reinterpret the interaction between inmates and staff in contemporary TI. This will include consideration of the use of discipline and restraint to distinguish how they are established in daily life in TI.


My interests are in thinking sociologically, around a number of topics that highlight morality within social environments. I take influence from a number of sociologists; including Simmel, Goffman and Bauman, as these authors have helped shape my own position and imagination on a number of topics.

I was born, and live, in Grimsby; a small coastal town in the North East of England. I studied for my undergraduate degree at the University of Hull, working alongside Keith Tester for a dissertation on the Sociology of Karate. It was with Keith’s recommendation that I applied to study at the University of Leeds for a Masters of Arts by Research, which I successfully complete in 2014 with Mark Davis and Tom Campbell as my supervisors. Since completing my Masters I have been employed at the University Centre Grimsby, lecturing in Sociology and programme leading the Criminology degree. During this time I also completed a PGCE at the University of Hull. 

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I have always been fascinated with the process of researching, and writing around topics in a contemporary setting. Since my MA I have been eager to enter the process of a PhD, mostly for the challenging nature of content, but also because of the opportunity to develop my skills academically and sociologically within this challenging process.  

What makes me passionate about my subject?

I have no personal connection to prisons, and have no idea why I feel so interested in the subject. I was influenced when reading Goffman to look into total institutions and for me the prison would always be the most interesting to study. The fascinating element of prisons comes with the moral responsibility of those who work in these environments, and also the moral change that occurs to the inmates of prisons; to understand their daily life in relation to theories of modernity is a question that I am eager to answer. Are prisons modern? And do the inmates of prisons experience the same effects of modernity to what those in the ‘free world’ experience?

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

Once I have completed my PhD I plan to continue working in higher education. I really enjoy lecturing in Sociology and wish to establish this as my lifelong career, so that I can be involved in developing student’s abilities as to allow them to achieve to a high standard, whilst at the same time being involved in the development and future of sociology as a key discipline in academia. 

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