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Title: Quest for identity : young people's tales of resistance and desistance from offending
Author: Murray, Cathy A.
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2006
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This thesis explores how young resisters and desisters in their teenage years maintain their resistance to and desistance from offending and asks to what extent they are agentic in the process. The term 'resister' refers to those who, according to a self-report survey, have never offended, and the term 'desister' to those who have offended and then ceased for at least twelve months. By situating desisters analytically adjacent to resisters, I have moved towards conceptualising desisters as current non-offenders. Desisters may have shared a past with persisters, as they have both offended. However, desisters share their current experience, that of maintaining non-offending, with resisters. It is this obvious, yet largely ignored, link between young resisters and desisters which underpins the thesis. Two qualitative methods, both of which elicited young people's own perspectives, were employed between 2003 and 2005. Secondary analysis of 112 qualitative interviews with resisters and desisters in their teenage years was conducted and peer led focus groups (in which a young peer, rather than an adult researcher, acted as the facilitator) were held with 52 teenage resisters. Young people's resistance to offending does not feature prominently in the literature. When it does, it is often associated with a state of innocence or passivity, while young desisters are said to 'grow out of' offending. This emphasis on an absence of offending, rather than on actively attained resistance, reflects an adult oriented view. The thesis challenges this by drawing on the sociology of childhood, a theoretical perspective which has not previously been applied to young people's resistance to and desistance from offending and which emphasises young people as agentic. Their agency is evidenced by the findings. Chapters Four and Five report how young people employ numerous strategies of resistance and desistance and Chapter Six how that they face trials and tribulations in maintaining their nonoffending, while Chapter Seven focuses on the 'being' rather than the 'doing' of sustaining non-offending. It is the work of Derrida that enables the argument to be taken a step further. Derrida's (1981) assertion is that binary oppositions are rarely neutral, but that one is the dominant pole. For example, in Western society the first of the following binary oppositions are usually regarded as the dominant or privileged pole: white/black, masculine/feminine, adult/child. In respect of the binary opposition at the heart of the current thesis, namely offender/non-offender, the non-offender is - from an adult perspective at least - the dominant pole and the non-offender is hailed as the norm. By contrast, several findings in the thesis point to the fact that the dominant pole in the binary opposition for young people is the offender rather than the non-offender. First, the discourse of young resisters and desisters suggests a view of the offender rather than non-offender as the norm. Secondly, many resisters and desisters face trials and tribulations, such as bullying, relating to their nonoffending status. Yet, if it were the case that the non-offender was the dominant pole and was privileged by young people (as it is in the adult population), resisters would not be penalised in such ways for not offending. Thirdly, some of the strategies used by resisters, such as involvement in anti-social behaviour, signify an attempt to compensate for their non-offending status. Again, if the non-offender was the dominant pole in the binary opposition, far from resorting to mechanisms to compensate for their non-offending behaviour, this behaviour would be encouraged, as it is by adults. This inverted world has implications for young resisters and desisters. Their resistance is to be understood in the context of an expectation of offending, rather than non-offending. Contrary to the notion of the pull of normality bringing desisters back to a non-offending state, the pull of normality among young desisters - and many resisters - is better understood as being towards offending. Resistance, evidenced by the strategies and trials and tribulations of resisters and desisters, is against this pull. Moreover, as non-offending is the modus operandi in the adult world, to be an adult non-offender requires less effort. For a young person, being a non-offender is more challenging than it is for adults and maintenance of resistance constitutes a struggle not previously reflected in adult representations. Adults, not having taken account of the different modus operandi of the young person's world, have not attributed agency to resistance and have underestimated young people's struggle to maintain resistance. The strategies demanded of resisters and desistcrs to maintain non-offending and the trials and tribulations which they face when they do have heretofore been overlooked.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Recidivism Prevention ; Juvenile delinquency Prevention ; Identity (Philosophical concept)