Life after taking a life: the processes of meaning reconstruction and identity for men who committed homicide
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This thesis, comprising one theoretical paper and three qualitative studies, aims to explore how offenders who committed homicide made meaning of their experiences and reconstructed their identities. The first two studies used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and interviewed men who were at the end of their sentence and offered insights into how the men made sense of living their life following the commission of homicide. Study 1 reported on identity work as predominantly an intersubjective process, where the making of the self is influenced by relations with others. Positive contextual influences were identified in cultivating reconciliations in identity, meaning, and reflexive connections. Study 2 suggested that sense-making processes are brought into focus when there is a major disruption such as perpetration of homicide. This study highlighted how Mr Smith had a number of experiences during his incarceration (e.g. losses/death of loved ones, support from peers, positive therapy experiences) which caused him to re-evaluate and change his identity. Study 3 used Narrative Analysis (NA) and interviewed men who had committed homicide and are now living in the community; the findings showed that most of the narratives start with a disturbing childhood, often leading to repetitive disturbances and culminating in the index offence. Depending upon relational influences, some of the men then feel a sense of redemption, others live a life in ‘condemnation’, and some recursively oscillate between these two opposing narratives. Overall, identity work for the men who had taken a life in this study was predominantly an intersubjective (relational) process and therefore inherently social. The participants’ internal and external worlds interact, leading to different impacts depending upon the influence of the external (whether negative or positive) relational environment. Open engagement with the feeling states and perspectives of others allowed the emergence of new identity and sense-making. A cycle developed in which the benefits of social connection defined identity, also enhancing proactive agency which in turn encouraged more social connection.
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