Narrative roles in criminal action: An integrative framework for differentiating offenders

Donna Youngs, David V. Canter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose. The proposal that offenders' narratives help to shape criminal action raises the possibility of a finite set of narrative themes for distinguishing offenders. The present paper seeks to articulate narrative themes that may be active within the roles offenders adopt during offending events. Possible themes may be derived from studies of fundamental narratives in literary criticism, notably Frye (1957). Within personality psychology, McAdams (1993) has also argued for a restricted set of personal narratives in any given culture produced by the dominant dimensions of Potency and Intimacy. Methods. The sub-set of narratives on which offenders' draw can be explored through the roles criminals see themselves as playing during offending episodes. Case study interviews were therefore content analysed to illustrate offence roles based in narrative themes and their cognitive, affective, and identity components. Results. These considerations suggest that four thematic narrative roles can be distinguished: Professional, Victim, Tragic Hero, and a Revengeful Mission. Distinct patterns of cognitive distortion, affective, and identity components are proposed within these four narrative roles. Conclusion. The Narrative Offence Roles specified and illustrated in the present paper offer hypotheses for empirical study and the possibility of a new aetiological perspective in criminology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-249
Number of pages17
JournalLegal and Criminological Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date23 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2012


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