Dysfunctional self-identities : exploring the life stories of 15 murderers within a narrative framework

Parkinson, Mary-Louise
(1999) Dysfunctional self-identities : exploring the life stories of 15 murderers within a narrative framework. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Despite the extensive investigation into murder, violence and aggression, it continues to be a pervasive problem in the modern world. As Menninger (in Halleck, 1967) said, "We still don't know how to protect Abel and we still don't know what to do with Cain." The position of this thesis is that if we want to know why Cain murdered his brother then we should ask him - a phenomenological perspective. That is to advocate that the subjective experience an individual has, offers the reality about the intention of the action. Traditionally objectivism and the desire to obtain absolute truths has taken precedent over constructivist thought, which values the idea that reality belongs within the mental representation an individual makes of the world. Thus this research supports narrative theory which offers a framework that invites the exploration of these mental representations of the self and the world. This theory with mounting support illustrates how people think and make sense of their lives as stories. Didion (in McAdams 1988) succinctly says 'We tell ourselves stories in order to live.' The life story is seen as being synonymous with self-identity. This research set out to explore the idea that a problem in the self-identity of murderers may be intrinsic in the emergence of murder. Following McAdams 1988 proposal, self-identity was viewed as being reflected in the self-narrative. The narrative accounts of fifteen homicide offenders were collected from Nottingham Prison by two interviewers. These were tape recorded then transcribed for analysis. The narratives were deconstructed and assigned to groups of how structurally similar they were to each other based upon a scheme founded by McAdams' idea that there are six criteria for a good narrative form vis a vis mature identity; coherence, credibility, openness to change, reconciliation, differentiation and generativity. Apart from the group where the offenders claimed to have changed, each group appeared to be defined by lacking in at least one of the criteria. (Apart from differentiation which was seen to be an underlying process upon which these other criteria depended). Moreover there appeared to be a cumulative structure from coherence to generativity. Thus the aim of the analysis was threefold. Firstly to demonstrate the cumulative structure from well formed narratives to incoherent narratives. Secondly to show how this ability to make sense of ones life (or not) manifest itself in the account an offender gives about himself, his life and the murder. Thirdly to explore the issue of change. The results showed that there was a cumulative structure based around how well formed the narrative accounts were. The "better" the narrative the more sense it made and the more the offender had to offer with respect to information about himself and his life. The group who has changed, told reflective stories about a central character who had changed over time, how personal issues had been resolved not least coming to terms that they were killers. It was then found that murderers could be seen to be dysfunctional on a scale of development. This shows how well they can make sense of themselves and their lives. The change having taken place in the offenders in the last group suggests that change comes about through being able to make sense of oneself and incorporate the disparate parts of ones identity. This then has implications for the possibility of change. The likelihood of change decreasing as the narrative becomes less well formed. In commenting on the assertion that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. The findings of this research suggest that we need to be able to tell good stories in order to live functional lives.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2023 18:30
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2023 18:31
DOI: 10.17638/03175497
Copyright Statement: Copyright © and Moral Rights for this thesis and any accompanying data (where applicable) are retained by the author and/or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge.
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3175497