Constructing the durable penal agent: tracing the development of habitus within English probation officers and Scottish criminal justice social workers

Scott Grant*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In contrast to prison personnel, practice cultures of penal agents charged with delivering ‘community punishment’ are surprisingly under-researched. Recent evidence from Scotland and England suggests that community-based penal agents demonstrate strong capacities for resistance against state-level punitive discourse. This indicates that despite several turns in penal policy, successive UK Governments have failed to produce tougher systems of community punishment as intended. By deploying Bourdieu’s conceptual tools of habitus and field, and referring to evidence from empirical studies, this article will attempt to show that penal agents possess durable and deeply embedded dispositions that not only protect them from punitive field conditions, but also guide and underpin their everyday practice with offenders. By doing so, this article offers a conceptual starting point for an emerging sociology of community punishment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)750-768
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Criminology
Issue number4
Early online date27 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015



  • habitus
  • probation
  • criminal justice
  • social work
  • community punishment

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