Psychosocial criminology, network theory – and getting EXACTLY what you wanted all along …

Oh goodness me.  Psychosocial criminology interviewing techniques are fabulous.  Two – for me – key paragraphs from this text by Gadd and Corr which I am reading at the moment, and which has come my way at exactly the right moment via the synchronicity and intelligence of my always perspicacious dissertation supervisor, Dr Emma Murray:

The free association narrative interview method is based on the premise that the meanings underlying interviewees’ elicited narratives are best accessed via links based on spontaneous association, rather than whatever consistency can be found in the narrative. This is a radically different conception of meaning because free associations follow an emotional rather than a cognitively derived logic … It gives priority to the meanings inherent in the links, rather than the meanings contained within statements. In the interstices, we believe, is revealed a subject beyond the unitary, rational subject of most social science (Hollway and Jefferson, 2013: 140).

It is in the theorization of emotionally charged links and interstices that the approach has courted most controversy. One central question is whether researchers can ever access the worlds of others without recourse to well rehearsed discourses, including psychoanalytic ones (Wetherell, 2005). The psychosocial approach assumes that one can and that a psychoanalytic interpretive perspective provides a means of sensitizing oneself, in mind and body, to the lived and not always speakable experiences of another (Hollway, 2011).

In a serious way, this is what network theory tells us too: the important information about people, what they think and even what they will do, lies not in what they say (the emailed content, the recorded phone conversations, the sexted texts, etc.) but in who – and what organisations and institutions – they do these things with.  That is to say, when the security agencies made out, all those years ago, that they were conceding our content to the requirements of privacy by only asking for our metadata, they were actually achieving access to what is far more important than any of our content ever will be: the web of contacts, the times, the frequency, from where to where … inevitably one might argue, precisely the significant links and interstices, as Gadd and Corr indicate is also the case in a quite different discipline.

And let it be clear: I have no concrete issue – a priori – with such measures being taken when transparency and democratic dialogue make those who wish to protect us speak to us directly and sincerely.  Otherwise, our democracy is being clearly hobbled and undermined, because people we entrust our security to choose not to act straight with us; choose not to say clearly accessible truths to the most highly educated generation in history; choose not to confirm that actually metadata is key and really what they wanted all along; and that what we say – and say we’re going to do – is in fact of minimal importance in the grander scheme of comprehending these terrible, headline-snatching human behaviours which understandably distress us so.

After all, why should they be ashamed of admitting they got what they wanted – if the goal, whilst serving our citizenship and our democracies as they should, is to protect us from the kind of violent actions we have seen in the past few weeks?


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