Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Narrative Criminology

Narrative Criminology: Understanding Stories of Crime

Lois Presser
Sveinung Sandberg
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Narrative Criminology
    Book Description:

    Stories are much more than a means of communication-stories help us shape our identities, make sense of the world, and mobilize others to action. InNarrative Criminology, prominent scholars from across the academy and around the world examine stories that animate offending. From an examination of how criminals understand certain types of crime to be less moral than others, to how violent offenders and drug users each come to understand or resist their identity as 'criminals', to how cultural narratives motivate genocidal action, the case studies in this book cover a wide array of crimes and justice systems throughout the world.

    The contributors uncover the narratives at the center of their essays through qualitative interviews, ethnographic fieldwork, and written archives, and they scrutinize narrative structure and meaning by analyzing genres, plots, metaphors, and other components of storytelling. In doing so, they reveal the cognitive, ideological, and institutional mechanisms by which narratives promote harmful action. Finally, they consider how offenders' narratives are linked to and emerge from those of conventional society or specific subcultures. Each chapter reveals important insights and elements for the development of a framework of narrative criminology as an important approach for understanding crime and criminal justice. An unprecedented and landmark collection,Narrative Criminologyopens the door for an exciting new field of study on the role of stories in motivating and legitimizing harm.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-9573-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)

    The movement toward narrative criminology is radical in its insights and implications. As a genuine departure from and viable alternative to mainstream criminology, the work showcased in this remarkable collection is likely to create serious waves in criminology that will be unruly and difficult to contain.

    The irony, of course, is that there is nothing radical about narrative criminology at all. Throughout this book, the authors draw on a sophisticated array of leading thought in psychology, philosophy, cultural studies, and elsewhere. The so-called narrative turn in the social sciences (Brown et al. 1994) has characterized these other fields of enquiry...

  4. Introduction: What Is the Story?
    (pp. 1-20)

    Narratives are central to human existence. By constructing our lives as stories, we forge connections among experiences, actions, and aspirations. We know ourselves asoneover time—one consistent moral actor or one unified group of moral actors—however numerous or varied the cultural story elements that we access and integrate into our self-stories. Our self-stories condition what we will do tomorrow because whatever tomorrow brings, our responses must somehow cohere with the storied identity generated thus far. Criminologists have made ample use of offenders’ narratives, mainly, albeit not exclusively, as vehicles for data on the factors that promote criminal...


    • 1 The Rapist and the Proper Criminal: The Exclusion of Immoral Others as Narrative Work on the Self
      (pp. 23-41)

      Understood as a moral space, a prison symbolically positions its prisoners as a group of immoral others. Everyday life behind bars has numerous ways of communicating that most basic of the prison’s messages to its prisoners: you are not to be trusted. All forms of interaction in the institution will be structured by prison officers’ professional focus on the worst case, and their multiple efforts to keep it from becoming reality. The result is that day in and day out prisoners are reminded of the fact that being a prisoner is being a member of a group of immoral people...

    • 2 In Search of Respectability: Narrative Practice in a Women’s Prison in Quito, Ecuador
      (pp. 42-68)

      Rather than approach offenders’ narratives as a record of events, narrative criminologists see talk as a form of social action (Presser 2009; Sandberg 2010, 2011). Building on Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralization, research in this vein has mainly explored narrative in the construction of deviant or desisting identity (Maruna and Copes 2005; see also Copes et al. 2008; Sandberg 2011; Topalli 2005). Although important developments have been made, women offenders’ narratives have been somewhat absent.¹ They arguably warrant special consideration: women’s offending is less common, their offending careers are shorter, and they are less likely to have co-offenders than...

    • 3 Gendered Narratives of Self, Addiction, and Recovery among Women Methamphetamine Users
      (pp. 69-95)

      Narrative criminology, with its ethnomethodological influences, has much in common with feminist theoretical frameworks that concern themselves with uncovering the constitutive nature of gendered practices, including speech (Butler 1990; Connell 2002; Stokoe 2006; West and Zimmerman 1987). If narratives provide us, as analysts, a window into how individuals “organize views of themselves, of others, and of their social worlds” (Orbuch 1997, 455), then a critical facet of narrative analysis involves investigating how “women are constructed or construct themselves” within them (Daly and Maher 1998, 4). Narratives impart essential messages about gender, with the structure, content, and usage of language emerging...

    • 4 Moral Habilitation and the New Normal: Sexual Offender Narratives of Posttreatment Community Integration
      (pp. 96-122)

      Disruptive life events can shatter the complacent, routine, and unreflective nature of human existence, one’s sense of what it means to be normal and live a normal life (Becker 1997). Such events create narrative turmoil, challenging our sense of self and identity, and the way in which we choose to project these to the world at large (Garro and Mattingly 2000; Viney and Bousfield 1991). Troubling events force their way into our personal narratives, and compel us to consider the value inherent in acknowledging or hiding such events as we refashion our self-narratives and confront a world that may—we...


    • 5 “The Race of Pale Men Should Increase and Multiply”: Religious Narratives and Indian Removal
      (pp. 125-149)

      The above quote was taken from a speech that Wilson Lumpkin, US Congressional Representative from the State of Georgia, delivered on February 20, 1828, in support of a federal policy that would relocate Native American tribes from the southeastern United States to federally controlled lands west of the Mississippi River. Representative Lumpkin’s references were drawn from the Exodus narrative found in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, and by framing his rhetoric in this manner, he forged a clear connection between the story of the Israelites and the situation of the Native Americans in the earliest decades of the...

    • 6 Meeting the Djinn: Stories of Drug Use, Bad Trips, and Addiction
      (pp. 150-173)

      All societies have realms of darkness. The Kuranko people of Sierra Leone, for example, have the bush, which they consider a place of wild forces that both threaten and sustain the village and its rule-bound life. The bush is where the djinn live—capricious creatures able to bestow villagers with great powers but also to drive them insane. The djinn are givers and takers of life, a source of vitality, adventure, and death. To access and make proper use of the forces of the djinn requires ritual technique and conceptual strategies (Jackson 1998, 51, 62). It is not an option...

    • 7 Telling Moments: Narrative Hot Spots in Accounts of Criminal Acts
      (pp. 174-204)

      Whether story is merely a sequence of events and narrative is theshapingof events, we must recognize that the positioning of the teller is crucial, both toward the material told and toward her or his audience, especially in autobiography. Thus, study of autobiographical narrative is inherently dynamic. In studies of narratives, we must be cognizant of the milieu of the telling, the status and particular contexts of participants, and the repercussions of telling. In examining oral life stories of prisoners inside cellblocks and drug addicts in treatment centers, I have been most aware that the events mentioned are sequenced...


    • 8 The Shifting Narratives of Violent Offenders
      (pp. 207-234)

      I recently watched the video-recorded interrogation of Jermaine,¹ a young black man who had shot and killed a young white man during a robbery in Washington, DC. I wanted to see how the two detectives managed to persuade the suspect to waive his Miranda rights and, as the detectives put it, “tell his story.” Through trickery and deceit (which involved lies, plot suggestion, and redirecting the conversation) they carefully set the stage for him to confess in detail to the robbery homicide. They judged his account (by other corroborating evidence) to be truthful and he was ultimately convicted of first-degree...

    • 9 Narrative Criminology and Cultural Criminology: Shared Biographies, Different Lives?
      (pp. 235-259)

      Set against today’s many true crime autobiographies—the type of sensationalist, tell-all accounts of life as a violent gangster or football hooligan that stare down at us from the shelves of main street and airport bookshops—the confession of a theft of pears by St. Augustine in AD 397 seems entirely innocuous, innocent even. Yet, if we leave aside the important distinction that exists between the reverent contrition of Augustine and the self-aggrandizement associated with, say, contemporary “hooli-lit” (Fischer 2006), it is clear that, as long as society has recognized the concept of crime, a shadow process of making sense...

    • 10 Narratives of Tax Evasion: The Cultural Legitimacy of Harmful Behavior
      (pp. 260-286)

      In recent years a number of European countries have come dangerously close to defaulting on their sovereign debt. They have responded to the pressures of the financial markets by carrying out draconian measures to bring their national accounts under control. The magnitude of the adjustments made to avert the prospect of a default has peremptorily brought onto the agenda of many European countries the question of whether the sacrifices imposed on their respective societies have been fairly distributed among all citizens. This discussion, in turn, has drawn public attention to the phenomenon of tax evasion. In this regard, Italy must...

  8. Conclusion: Where to Now?
    (pp. 287-300)

    It would be easy enough to categorize narrative criminology as an organizational advance, an assembling of research involving stories related to crime, and to pronounce once again the importance of stories as data. But narrative criminology is far more innovative and vital than that, a fact underscored by the studies shared in this book. Narrative criminology conceives of a world where experience is always storied and where action advances or realizes the story. This vision produces new understandings of harm as well as new and difficult questions.

    Do stories motivate harm or do they simply legitimize it? In other words,...

    (pp. 301-304)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 305-318)