Keywords: Prison Ethnography; Prison Officer; Psychiatric Forensic Hospital; Use of Force; Threat; Emotions; Micro-Sociology of Violence.
This article focuses on the practice of using the threat of force within a custodial setting. Prison ethnographers have rarely focused their observations on prison officers' threats of the use of force or on the actual use of force, partly due to the difficulty of access. The theoretical framework adopted here is mainly grounded on Collins' interactionist approach and, concurrently, Popitz's phenomenology of power. The ethnography was conducted alongside officers on duty as well as interventions by emergency squads. In the first section, the paper introduces the issue of threatening the use of force, presents the research goals, and then unpacks the theoretical framework. The final section firstly illustrates the construction of a «critical event», introducing the idea of «status magnet/status shield» as a tool to integrate the focus of the interaction; it then defines and describes prison officers' symbolic threats and credible threats of the use of force. The latter are two relevant means of influence that officers would usually use in the case of a critical event. Threats of force would either result in a de-escalation of the situation or the actual use of force.