Horticulture, hypermasculinity and mental wellbeing: the connections in a male prison context

Seymour, Florence (2019) Horticulture, hypermasculinity and mental wellbeing: the connections in a male prison context. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis explores the interconnections between horticulture, hypermasculinity and mental wellbeing. It focusses on male prisoners and staff experiences of engaging with a North West horticulture programme called Greener on the Outside: For Prisons (GOOP) in a category B prison in North West England. The study forms part of a wider, regional programme aiming to tackle health inequalities amongst various population groups funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Masculinities and horticulture are both well-researched areas within prison settings in particular; therefore this thesis provides an original contribution to knowledge by combining the two themes and exploring the interconnections.
The study was underpinned by a social constructionist epistemology and informed by symbolic interactionism and critical inquiry. In terms of methodology the research utilised a critical ethnographic approach using a range of qualitative data collection methods: active participant observation, guided conversations and individual in-depth interviews. Using a critical lens for the study allowed the research not only to explore ‘what is’ but also ‘what could be’ within the criminal justice system.
The main period of data collection was conducted over a 17 week time frame, with a sample of 34 prisoners and seven members of staff. The critical ethnographic approach and combination of methods used generated rich data capturing the lived experiences, personal journeys and stories of those involved in GOOP – revealing findings based on complex meanings and interpretations.
The findings contribute to knowledge and understanding of the importance of engaging in horticulture with particular reference to community, trust, green environments, biophilic design, experiencing hope and reducing hypermasculine behaviours through responsibilities, nurturing and the presence of females. With GOOP offering a small, community-like atmosphere within prison, this invoked trust, friendships and positive interactions between prisoners and staff. The hypermasculine norms so often prevalent in prisons were notably absent on GOOP, with connections made between caring for plants, healthily re-establishing the male role and interacting with females. The range of tasks available for GOOP prisoners offered opportunities for prisoners to develop personally and socially, a chance to improve their mental wellbeing with specific mental illnesses addressed. This research offers an original contribution to knowledge as it combines three highly researched concepts; hypermasculinity, horticulture and mental wellbeing with pertinent connections established through reductions in hypermasculine behaviour when interacting with nature. It highlights the potential for positive masculinities in prison, the creation of community through horticulture and, as a result, the enhancement in mental wellbeing.
The recognition and reach of GOOP horticulture programmes is growing, with increasing interest in applying the programme in regions outside of the North West. This highlights the relevance and significance of the research findings and their potential to impact future policy and practice. Recommendations arising from the findings – for example, working outside in the fresh air, creating a small community and encouraging creativity – will be shared with relevant stakeholders within the GOOP network and wider prison system to ensure reach and enable the impact of the research is maximised.

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