Harris, Laura (2021) Exploring the Life Narratives of the Non-Incarcerated: An Integrative Model of Differentiation. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The study of narrative roles in offending action has revealed four dominant roles offenders adopt during the offending experience (Canter & Youngs, 2009; Youngs & Canter 2011, 2012). This finite set of narrative themes that distinguishes offenders and guides their offending action are said to be a distillation of a full life narrative (Canter, 1994). The proposal that offenders’ narratives are a distillation of a full life narrative raises the possibility of a finite set of narrative themes for distinguishing non-offenders that encompass the same overarching themes adopted during offending action.

The aim of this study was an elaboration of these four narrative themes to identify if they could be revealed in a non-incarcerated subsample of the general population providing a model of differentiation. In addition, to examine if and how criminal narratives are embedded within an individual’s overall life narrative through a comparison of non-offender vs offender narratives to establish if differences emerged and if certain narrative themes were more prone to criminality than others. Currently, no such research exists that explores the possibility of the four offender narrative themes being a distillation of a full life narrative examining how crime is embedded within these. Nor does a model of differentiation exist for a non-incarcerated sample drawing on these four themes, filling the void of an integrative approach to personality (McAdams & Pals, 2005).

Interviews were conducted with 71 participants from the general population using the Life as a Film (LAAF) procedure, an innovative technique to elicit autobiographical life narrative accounts which reveal implicit and explicit aspects of the self, alongside personality measures of the Big Five Inventory (BFI), the Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control (LOC) and the Psychological Inventory of Criminal Thinking Styles (PICTS). Frequency analysis uncovered the presence of an overarching narrative theme embraced in positivity, yet underlying themes also emerged. Smallest space analysis (SSA) of the LAAF responses revealed the presence of four narrative themes that relate to the roles of the Revenger, Hero, Professional and Victim. These findings also have convincing evidence to support the Intimacy and Potency based distinctions and the three cognitive, affective, and identity components of narrative offence roles as found by Youngs and Canter (2012) providing an integrated model of narrative themes.

To enhance the knowledge of the four narrative themes the personality correlates were examined across the narrative themes, stemming from McAdams’ (1995) three levels of self-identity. The LOC and BFI dimensions of personality were predominately reflective of the psychological components of the LAAF items that underpinned the four narrative themes. Self-descriptions stemming from the four offence roles supported the LAAF accounts provided with few differentiations revealed in relation to life outcomes. Certain narrative roles were more associated with female protagonists with few other demographic differences unveiled.

To enhance the understanding the same approach was applied to participants who disclosed a previous offence unveiling similar, more dominant, thematic themes and underlying personality measures. Aspects of criminal thinking were uncovered in relation to three narrative roles, two of which were couched in a more negative theme featuring unresolved dissonance.

The findings provide a novel model of differentiation in the life narratives of a non-incarcerated sample drawing on narrative themes previously only identified in offending action alongside revealing how criminality could be embedded within the life story.

HARRIS - THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
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