Transforming the prison: Romantic optimism or appreciative realism?

Alison Liebling, Charles Elliott, Helen Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the use of appreciative inquiry [Al] in a number of prisons, with different outcomes. It considers the nature of the Al process, both as a mode of inquiry and a mode of transformation. There are some links, in terms of the underlying principles, between Al and restorative justice and these are explored by the authors. They conclude that Al constitutes a fair and inclusive research approach that generates a rich and faithful account of a prison to emerge. It generates energy among prison staff that can be harnessed in the direction of better practice. But there are dangers when highly motivated prison officers are frustrated by a lack of responsiveness by senior managers in their `wishes for the prison', however understandable the reasons for this. The mechanism at work is a normative process, which seems to engage the research participants in meaningful, constructive and ethically relevant dialogue about their practices and experiences. The special and complex moral environment of the prison makes Al especially relevant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-180
Number of pages20
JournalCriminal Justice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2001

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