Tkazky, Sophia (2018) PRISONERS' "LIFE AS A FILM". Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Narrative is the way in which human beings organise and structure their view of themselves and the world (Bruner, 1986; McAdams and Pals, 2006). Narrative as a story told provides material to research a person's reality in terms of the one who knows it best – the narrator himself. From this perspective the offenders' accounts of what a film of their life would be are explored in this study. The main purpose is to evaluate the recently developed “Life as a Film” procedure for elicitation and interpretation of the narrative content (Canter and Youngs, 2015). This procedure was created specifically for use with offenders and is based on McAdams (1993) qualitative research methodology. This study also aims to reveal the implicit content and the structure of offenders' “Life as a Film” stories.

The “Life as a Film” descriptions were collected from 227 prisoners in four countries (Great Britain, Hungary, Italy and Poland) together with demographic data. Their responses were analysed in terms of “Life as a Film” (LAAF) content framework.

In the first section the description of prisoners‟ narratives in general is provided. All studies in this section are carried out on a generic sample of 120 prisoners‟ interviews. In this sample each of the four nationalities in the research data pool is equally represented. This section consists of two studies. The first one describes the offenders' “life as a film” accounts in terms of the LAAF content dictionary. As the results show, incarcerated offenders‟ narratives are stories of controversy between a light optimistic and egocentric attitude and a harsh illogical world, from which the narrator still hopes to gain some support and a happy ending.

The second study in this section presents the exploration of the narrative structures, formed by a combination of LAAF content framework items. The distinct structures were identified in all three layers of the narratives: the implicit content, the processes that organise the story and the ways in which the protagonist of the story deals with the world. These structures outline a hybrid, complex picture of the stories and allow the making of inferences on the nature of the offenders' narratives. The findings accord with Frye's (1957) description of the narrative as a cyclical and moving structure. The results provide a good start for further studies on the incorporation of the episodes within the personal narratives. They also reveal the potential for the further development of a LAAF content dictionary.

The second section is dedicated to comparative analyses of the LAAF accounts collected from offenders with different backgrounds. The comparisons were conducted in terms of the original LAAF content dictionary items as well as in terms of the narrative structures described in the previous section (Chapter 7). The comparison between violent and non-violent offenders' narratives within the generic sample revealed strong similarities between these LAAF accounts: dominant themes of criminality, a light and optimistic tone, strong self-identity, declaration of empathy, recognition of the significance of others, reactive locus of agency and presence of moral justifications (in almost equal proportions in both groups). However significant differences were also revealed by this comparison. They are manifested in the general tone of the narrative, the protagonists' characteristics, the main message of the narrative and the relationship with others and with the world. The positive approach to the whole story, and not only to specific episodes in it, was found more often in the non-violent offenders' narratives. The violent offenders‟ narratives were more frequently about distress, danger and self-chosen loneliness, even antagonism with the outer world. The differences were also found in the main message of the narrative, and in the types of roles assigned to other characters in the story.

In the second section the comparison between the prisoners' narratives collected in Great Britain, Hungary, Italy and Poland is provided. The full sample of 227 responses was used for this study. In general offenders' narratives bear similar characteristics across all four countries: prevalence of the criminality theme, positive tone, happy ending, and reactive locus of agency. The LAAF accounts from different countries manifested similar, rather egocentric, messages, and were narrated in a euphoric emotional tone. Similarities were found also in the roles assigned to the protagonist and to others. Some significant differences between the samples were revealed in all LAAF content dictionary sub-groups and in the main narrative themes. Thus, narratives from Hungary can be characterised as nearly non-eventful personal credos, a calm and sad outline of the narrator's life philosophy with very few justifications for the protagonist's actions. British offenders' LAAF accounts are the most pessimistic and unhappy, and concentrated on a criminal life when compared to others. Most detailed and explicit are narratives collected in Italy: they present a story of an innocent confused person, who tries to survive in a cruel unfair world. Narratives collected in Poland, the least detailed and shortest among the national groups, can be summarised as a sad story of a lone and decent hero involved in crime almost against their will.

This study presents a major contribution towards the understanding of criminal thinking in narrative terms. The results show the coherence of the offenders' narratives across violent/non-violent groups and national samples and validate the use of data not directly related to crime for the study of criminality. The current study provides an important theoretical contribution by presenting the comparison between offenders' narratives collected in different countries. The success of the LAAF framework in exploring the narratives collected from offenders with different criminal and/or national backgrounds demonstrates methodological contributions. The study reveals the potential for further international as well as intra-national research and the validity of the LAAF approach across countries. The fact that in general offenders' narratives bear similar characteristics across various countries indicates that common treatment and rehabilitation adjustments can be made. As the results show, the LAAF content framework allows identification of both common and specific traits and characteristics of the narrative, thus providing the opportunity for personal adjustments of treatment and rehabilitation programmes. Overall the LAAFapproach provides an important tool set for research on criminality relating to the offender himself.

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