The Hidden Food: Mealtime Resistance and Identity Work in a Norwegian Prison

Punishment and Society, vol 13 (1), 47-63, 2011

28 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2015

Date Written: January 16, 2015


How can prisoners’ blatant aversion for the official prison food be understood? And what can we make of the various covert practices of illegal or semi-legal alternative food making that goes on behind closed cell doors? Are prisoners picky and difficult people, or is the food truly as horrible as they claim? Or could this best be understood on levels other than that of individual taste? The article will argue that prisoners experience the official prison food as a continuation of the more general attacks on their identity that imprisonment entails, denying them status as a person with competence and agency and forcefully removing them from family, friends and positioning them on the margins of the larger community outside. The daily meals thus serve as painful bodily manifestations of the power the institution holds over the individual. As Foucault reminds us, however, power may be conceptualized as a fluctuating relationship of forces, not a property of powerful groups or individuals. In such a perspective, the prison food also works as arena for prisoner identity work through practices of hidden resistance.

Keywords: Identity work, power relations, prison ethnography, prison food, resistance

Suggested Citation

Ugelvik, Thomas, The Hidden Food: Mealtime Resistance and Identity Work in a Norwegian Prison (January 16, 2015). Punishment and Society, vol 13 (1), 47-63, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Thomas Ugelvik (Contact Author)

University of Oslo ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavs plass
Oslo, N-0317


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics