Narrative Criminology and Ethnography

Fleetwood, Jennifer and Sandberg, Sveinung. 2022. Narrative Criminology and Ethnography. In: Sandra M. Bucerius; Kevin D. Haggerty and Luca Berardi, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Ethnographies of Crime and Criminal Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 246-268. ISBN 9780190904500 [Book Section]

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Narrative criminology is the study of narratives as instigating, maintaining or effecting desistance from harmful action. While much research within this tradition is based on interviews and texts only, storytelling context is pivotal to understand the role of stories. Attention to the narrativity of speech, conversations and texts pertaining to both individuals and groups has the potential to enrich ethnographic research on crime, criminal justice and victims/survivors. This chapter demonstrates why ethnographers must take talk seriously and argues that narrative criminologist should use more ethnographic insights and methods.

Observational data is proudly held up as the defining characteristic of ethnographic research, but ethnographers draw heavily on first person accounts as well. Stories told in field, between research participants – and to the researcher – are paramount for most ethnographic fieldworks. We explore the epistemological underpinnings regarding the value of observations versus accounts: naturalism versus constructivism. In the former, the researcher must get to the truth of the matter. In the latter, the task of the researcher explores the myriad and competing ways that truth is discursively constructed, in other words the very processes by which activities become deviant.

Ethnographers can draw much from contemporary developments in narrative criminology. We outline two in particular: talk is a kind of social action that does things, and secondly, stories are antecedents to offending. We review research in narrative criminology to demonstrate the importance of stories for understanding crime and justice: they delineate insiders and outsiders, convey identity, supply know-how and display criminal capital. Vengeance and violence is also a way to tell or enact stories.

Finally, we explore questions of methodology: What techniques are specific to narrative ethnography? How can stories be analysed? How can researchers listen for silences, partial stories or ones that go untold? We also discuss some practical issues such as how to invite storytelling and the use of recording devices in the field. We conclude with some thoughts about future directions for narrative criminology and ethnography.

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Book Section

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ethnography; narrative criminology.

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1 April 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

05 Jan 2022 09:00

Last Modified:

09 May 2022 10:36


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