Love as human virtue and human need and its role in the lives of long-term prisoners

A multidisciplinary exploration

by Christina Valeska Straub (University of Leeds)

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The criminological literature has established the importance of understanding within-prison dynamics, the role of emotions in penality, and the importance of families in criminal justice. Straub’s focus centrally on the concept of love is a welcome addition to the literature in itself, and in particular for its contributions to – and tying together of – these existing strands within the penological literature. Straub’s multidisciplinary examination of love, and its role and meaning with the prison context, means this book will be of interest to a wide range of those studying and working within, the social sciences and criminal justice.

Dr Harry Annison
Southampton Law School
University of Southampton

While the importance of love is rarely questioned, the effects of its presence and absence in certain environments often goes unnoticed. This book analyses the role of love in the lives of prisoners in a low security English prison. It seeks to provide a deeper insight into the meaning and role of love as a dual concept in the social-ecology of human existence, human development and well-being, and sets out to encourage a critical and practical (re)consideration of the potential benefits of love´s (re)inclusion into the prison set-up and purpose.
This qualitative multidisciplinary analysis – based on psychological, moral philosophical, neuroscientific, and sociological literature – will appeal to postgraduates and early career researchers across the social sciences, as well practitioners of Criminal Justice and others interested in offender rehabilitation, and the effects of prison.

List of Figures and Tables

1. “There's no love in the concrete” - Introduction

2. Affective dimensions of prison effects research
2.1 (Re-)Examining the effects and pains of imprisonment
2.2 The absence of outside relationships as one of the pains of long-term imprisonment
2.3 Tracing the absence and presence of love in the prison research literature
2.4 The role of emotions in prison research
2.5 Conclusion

3. Unearthing love's qualities in multidisciplinary concept analysis
3.1 Combining concept analysis with social-ecological systems theory
3.2 Establishing a multidisciplinary focal point
3.3 Neuroscientific approaches – The physiological origins of love
3.4 Psychological approaches – Love as a factor in human development
3.5 Sociological approaches – Love as socio-cultural factor
3.6 Moral philosophical approaches – Love as human virtue
3.7 Recurring themes in the multidisciplinary conceptualisation of love
3.8 Conclusion

4. Locating the keys to a “no-go-area” – Navigating prison research in uncertain times
4.1 Getting in - Choice of prison and access to the field
4.2 Getting on – Establishing links in a disrupted environment
4.3 Participant recruitment and conducting interviews
4.4 Depth at all costs? - Ethical considerations before, during and after fieldwork
4.5 Getting out - Leaving the field
4.6 Encountering the interview sample – Pen pictures
4.7 Inferring theory - Validity, reliability and the question of truth

5. Prisoners' perceptions of love – Two sides of the same coin?
5.1 Synonyms of love
5.2 Love as human virtue – The presence of love in prisoners' microsystem
5.3 Love as human need – The absence of love in prisoners' microsystem
5.4 The absence of love in prisoners' exosystem
5.5 Resilience factors in social-ecological systems
5.6 Conclusion

6. The presence and absence of love in outside connections and its role in the pains of imprisonment
6.1 Types and management of outside connections
6.2 Maintaining love through letters and phone calls
6.3 Prison visits – Navigating a rift between incompatible life-worlds
6.4 Cutting outside connections for self-preservation
6.5 Cutting outside connections as an act of love
6.6 The loss of love as one of the pains of imprisonment
6.7 Conclusion

7. The absence and presence of love in inside connections
7.1 Functional and strategic alliances
7.2 Prison friendships – The love of philia
7.3 Romantic and sexual relationships – The love of eros
7.4 Feeling used vs. feeling valued – Sharing a cup as framing ritual of prison friendship
7.5 The absence and presence of love in staff-prisoner relationships
7.6 Conclusion

8. Prisoners' identity-performance in an emotionally structured life-world
8.1 Frontstage emotion performance and management
8.2 Weakness and masculinity – Emotion performance as gender performance?
8.3 Alternative interpretations of (hyper-)masculine emotion expression
8.4 Reimagining (prison-)masculinity as emotion performance
8.5 Opportunities for an “emotionally honest” prison environment incorporating the benchmarks of love
8.6 Conclusion

9. After all, does love matter? – Findings, recommendations and implications
9.1 Summary of main findings
9.2 Contributing to a critical theory of the pains and effects of long-term imprisonment
9.3 Reducing pain and enhancing resilience in the long-term prison experience
9.4 Including the qualities of love in the long-term prison experience
9.5 Conclusion and outlook - Love's role in prison research as human science


Dr Christina Straub’s vocation is centred around qualitative social research. She graduated as a Cultural Scientist at the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the European-University-Viadrina, Germany, in 2009 with an ethnographic study about the construction of individual identity in the subculture of Hot Rodding.

Her first post-graduation employment led her to work as full-time Research Assistant for the Prisons Research Centre at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. Together with Professor Alison Liebling and Helen Arnold she conducted a study from 2009-2011 about staff-prisoner-relationships in a high-security prison commissioned by the UK Home Office. She also completed a qualitative evaluation of RESTORE for London-based charity The Forgiveness Project. As a Senior Research Assistant at Southampton Law School she was involved in an ESRC-funded impact project in collaboration with the Prison Reform Trust, supervised by Dr Harry Annison on the pains and needs of families of people serving an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP).

Multidisciplinary, prison effects, pains of imprisonment, critical theory, moral legitimacy, adverse childhood experience, trauma research, love research, offender rehabilitation, prison reform, social-ecology, social-ecological, phenomenology, critical criminology, exploratory, concept analysis

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

Love as human virtue and human need and its role in the lives of long-term prisoners

Book Subtitle

A multidisciplinary exploration





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


5 B&W

Publication date

April 2021