Nikki, Carthy (2013) Deconstructing Offenders' Narratives. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The view of making sense of a person’s reality through the stories they tell about their lives, developed by Bruner (1991) and McAdams (1993) is the theoretical perspective used to reveal what offenders’ life-stories uncover about their offending action. Interviews with 63 incarcerated offenders and 90 non-incarcerated males’ explored three life-episodes: a Significant Event (SE), crime or deviant act, and life as a film. Narrative Roles Questionnaire (NRQ) and demographic information was also collected. The LAAF framework for eliciting and interpreting life-story narratives was implemented. The LAAF is developed from psychological literature from different aspects of narrative focusing on three primary areas: McAdams (e.g. 1993) life-stories, Bamberg’s (2009) identity in narrative, and Sykes and Matza’s (1957) neutralisation theory.

The first section of analysis focuses on SE and film narratives. Firstly, incarcerated and non-incarcerated descriptions of SE and film, for each of the LAAF content variables, were compared employing Chi Square analysis. Findings show the incarcerated group having more negative items identified in their life-episodes. This difference was consistent in SE and film narratives. Secondly, SSA-I explored the thematic structure of the LAAF variables for the incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals. A thematic region within the incarcerated SSA-I plot termed ‘contamination script’ was found in all of the incarcerated offenders narratives, for SE and film, but in only a small proportion of the non-incarcerated narratives. Thirdly, archetypal themes were identified in the SSA-I configuration showing distinct regions of themes relating to Youngs and Canter’s (2011; 2012) classifications of hero, victim, revenger and professional for the SE and film narrative. Findings demonstrated psychological consistency with dominant narrative roles across the two life-episodes.

The second section focuses on crime and deviant life-episodes. Youngs and Canter (2012) identified narrative themes in offenders’ NRQ responses. First, SSA-I configuration confirmed narrative themes in the incarcerated and non-incarcerated responses to NRQ items. Principal Component Analysis revealed psychological components of emotion, identity, and cognitive interpretations in NRQ items. Secondly, crimes and deviant acts were differentiated using: property, person, and sensory categories; a psychological classification system, based on Bandura’s (1986, 1999) theory of incentives. Multivariate analyses of the NRQ responses provided loose support for different narrative themes underpinning different crime types. Qualitative thematic analysis revealed a number of psychological themes of emotion, preparedness, and blame present in both incarcerated and non-incarcerated narratives; differences were exhibited by Feshbach’s (1964) instrumental and expressive dichotomy.

Similar dominant narrative roles were exhibited by the incarcerated and non-incarcerated crime and deviant episodes; differences resided in the contamination script and level of instrumentality. Psychological consistency, in different life-episodes, demonstrates theoretical contributions. Methodological contributions are recognised by the success of the LAAF framework for exploring criminals’ narratives. The application of a narrative perspective provides a tool for researching criminal action in a way that makes sense to those closest to the action – the criminal.

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