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Michael Gibson-Light

Michael is an Assistant Professor of Sociology & Criminology at the University of Denver specializing in the study of punishment, work, and culture. He researches lived experiences of prison and labor through ethnography, the scientific method of systematically observing and participating in the social world being studied.


Michael's current book project, under contract with Oxford University Press, follows 18 months of ethnographic research within a US state prison complex where he worked alongside imprisoned workers. It explores the structure and practices of prisoner labor and the reproduction of social inequalities between groups in this setting.


Recent work explores a shift from tobacco products to ramen noodles as informal prison currency in the underground economy of many US state prisons. Early findings were reported on in the Guardian, Washington Post, BBC, NPR, the Atlantic, Time, US News & World Report, and over 100 other reputable news outlets.

Michael's current book project draws on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork within a US state prison as well as over 80 in-depth interviews with prisoners and institutional staff to explore the practices, strategies, and outlooks of carceral laborers as they navigate the world of prison work.