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A corpus-based analysis of moral agency in pre-crime narratives

Powell, Emily 2022. A corpus-based analysis of moral agency in pre-crime narratives. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis explores the role that moral agency plays in the narratives of offenders written before they commit crimes. Moral agency expands on more limited conceptualisations of agency by incorporating a moral dimension in the form of the way in which people reflect on and evaluate their own past, present and future actions. This is particularly relevant to criminal narratives because of the impact that such reflection and evaluation may have on whether people are likely to offend again and on whether they may act on their urge to offend in the first place. A corpus-based approach is used to analyse a corpus of over 200,000 words of manifestos and diaries written by four lone attackers who perpetrated mass shootings and wrote accounts of their lives and the preparations they made for their crimes in the months and years before they committed them. Bamberg’s (2012) identity navigation framework is used to focus firstly on how the perpetrators position themselves in relation to their crimes, secondly on how they position themselves in relation to those who they are going to harm, and finally on how they present their past, present and future selves. Through qualitative analysis of the texts using corpus tools, the way in which the style of each perpetrator changes over time is traced, starting with keywords and phrases and expanding to the analysis of the co-text and collocations surrounding them. The thesis describes a range of lexical and grammatical features that emerge from the data as relevant to the navigation of moral agency, and demonstrates that at key points the perpetrators’ use of these features changes over time along with their positioning within the text. It is argued that the complexity of moral agency as embodied in these features goes beyond levels of high or low agency and is better described in terms of complex categories relating to the sharing of agency, rehearsal of agency, virtual agency, ambiguous agency and repackaged agency, and that navigating these categories in their narratives may have a constitutive effect on the perpetrators. This has important implications for existing assumptions relating to responsibility, agency and offending, as well as the role of narrative in relation to harmful actions

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 September 2022
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2022 12:01

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