skip to primary navigationskip to content

Judith Gardom

Judith Gardom

Ph.D Student


Judith holds a First Class BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Theology from the University of Oxford, a Postgraduate Certificate of Education from the University of Cambridge, and a Masters in Education (with Distinction) from the University of Cambridge.

Her Masters dissertation, The significance of 'Recognition' in the life narratives of ex-offenders and former addicts in Higher Education, an ethnographic study of an educational project in South London using life-narrative interviews, was supervised by Dr Philip Gardner.

She has many years' experience in education and educational research in the UK, Zimbabwe and Turkey, in Philosophy, Religion and English Literature.


The meaning of books for men in two Cat C prisons in the East of England: an exploratory study.

PhD student at the University Of Cambridge Institute Of Criminology from 2015

Supervised by Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe and Professor Alison Liebling

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and supported by the University of Cambridge ESRC Doctoral Training Programme (DTP).

This research explores:

• The institutional, cultural and personal meanings of books (as objects, texts, and cultural artefacts) in the lifeworld of men in prison.
• Processes and concerns through which books become meaningful for men in prison.
• Processes of meaning-making engaged in by men in prison with particular books.

Although books are widely believed to be important and beneficial in prison, little is known about the roles that they play in everyday life, how they relate to the needs and concerns of prisoners, and how they are valued. The aim of this research is to contribute new knowledge in this area, and develop a framework for understanding the role and value of books in prison.

Over an eight month period I conducted 53 interviews with men in two contrasting Category C prisons, exploring their current and past relationships with books, and how these had changed while in prison. Using prison libraries as a base, I observed and took part in everyday activities including library induction, reading groups, programmes linking prisoners with their families through recording stories, and peer mentoring of beginner readers; shadowed librarians in their everyday work in the library and other areas including Segregation and Education; and interviewed and held extensive conversations with librarians, volunteers, prison officers and senior staff.

I identify shared book cultures that are shaped by prison environments and by the prison population, existing alongside a wide variety of individual preferences and interests. I argue that there are complex and intimate relationships between the role and value that books have for men in prison, and particular concerns that arise in prison environments: using time and making time go; retaining meaningful connection with family; finding ways to exercise agency; avoiding or experiencing emotions; and constructing a self-narrative.

Research Interests

Reading in Prison, Books in Prison, Reader-Response Theory, Recognition Theory, Prisoner Education, Literacy as Capability, Virtue Ethics, Prison Ethnography, Narrative Research Methods, Phenomenological Research  Methods.

Prisons Research at Cambridge University

The Prisons Research Centre (PRC) was founded in 2000, under the Directorship of Professor Alison Liebling. The Centre has received funding from a wide range of sources, including the Prison Service/NOMS, the Nuffield Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, the ESRC, KPMG, the Home Office and UKDS (now Kalyx).

The Cambridge Institute of Criminology Prisons Research Centre aims to provide a stimulating research environment in which a coherent strategy of high quality research can be pursued, and integration between funded and non-funded, and applied and theoretical projects can be facilitated. We investigate how prisons operate, socially, morally and operationally, how they are experienced, and the relationship between these moral and social qualities, and their effects.

Members of the PRC team carry out, individually and collectively, methodologically rigorous and theoretically relevant field-based studies addressing problems of human and social values, punishment practices, and the organisation and effects of aspects of prison life. We strive to forge links with other prisons researchers, scholars in the broader fields of criminology and sociology, and with practitioners. Our vision is to develop a rigorous and person-centred model of social inquiry.

You can read more about the latest projects in our Annual Reports.