Images of prison: Managing institutional complexity in the Austrian penal system

Johanna Winter

Publication: ThesisDoctoral thesis

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Prisons are a specific type of organization with distinct challenges for their management. Most importantly, prisons - as well as understandings of how to 'successfully' manage them - are embedded in a pluralistic environment that consists of a variety of stakeholders with different ideas and expectations with regard to role and governance of prisons. This study addresses the question of which different understandings of 'good' prison management can be found in the Austrian discourse and how the expected complexity constituted by contradictory expectations is manifested in the shared narratives of prison managers. I draw on an institutional theory perspective in order to reconstruct the distinct constellation of institutional logics at the field level as well as at the individual level. Empirically, the study has four central elements: First, I identify the institutional logics at the field level as well as the relevant actors in the field. Second, I reconstruct the prevalent institutional logics as well as the metaphors in use at the individual level. Third, I compare field level and individual level. Finally, I am particularly interested in whether and how metaphors are used by prison managers to enact institutional logics and establish relationships between them. To answer the questions concerning the field level, I focused on articles in five Austrian newspapers from 1970 to 2015. Regarding the individual level, I conducted eight narrative interviews with (former) Austrian prisons managers. Methodologically, I combine a variety of different analytical approaches, namely content analysis, metaphor analysis, and objective hermeneutic analyses. The findings reveal two different 'types' of logics, namely governance and purpose logics. These logics differ in their content (what they claim jurisdiction over), their structure (their relationships within and across types), and in the metaphors used (purpose logics have a more restricted set of metaphors, while governance logics have a more differentiated set). Further, the empirical analyses show that metaphors play a variety of roles with regard to logics. They may either specify individual logics, set up competing logics against each other, stress complementarities between logics, or create relationships between otherwise unrelated logics. Summing up, this dissertation contributes, first, to literature on cross-level relationships of institutional logics by linking field-level results with individual-level results. Second, it extends literature on institutional pluralism and institutional complexity by arguing that constellations of logics do not only exist at different levels but there may also be different types of logics within a constellation. Third, I contribute to rhetorical approaches in institutional theory by showing how metaphors are a way of manifesting institutional pluralism. Fourth, for the practice of prison management, the study has implications for the planning and realization of change management efforts.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • WU Vienna
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2017

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