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Positioning and power in police-victim interactions during first response call-outs at the scene of reported domestic abuse incidents

Steel, Catherine Maeve Russell 2022. Positioning and power in police-victim interactions during first response call-outs at the scene of reported domestic abuse incidents. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This study centres on interactions between police officers and alleged victims during first response call-outs to domestic abuse incidents in the England and Wales jurisdiction. First response call-out (FRC) is adopted here to denote police officers’ period of attendance at the scene of a suspected crime that has been reported to the emergency number (see further College of Policing DEDD). To the best of the author’s knowledge, no previous empirical linguistic studies have been conducted in this speech context to date, reflecting the numerous complexities around researcher access. This thesis presents an analysis of data extracted from police body worn video footage of naturally occurring interactions during three FRCs from one force area in DEIJ. The research takes as its point of departure the pivotal nature of FRCs, which are characterised by undetermined social relations involving the speakers, the alleged perpetrator, the potential investigation and the wider power structures which govern the speech context. Analysis is guided by the fundamental theory of positioning, conceptualised as a dynamic, relational and sense-making process by which “who one is is always an open question with a shifting answer depending upon the positions made available within one’s own and others’ discursive practices” (Davies and Harré IJJE: ST). This conceptual tool unlocks the central question to be answered in this thesis: In what ways are social power relations constituted through interactional positioning during the FRCs? The inductive approach identifies three key dimensions in which participants are (re-) positioned, forming the basis of the analysis chapters: (i) ownership of the setting and control of the interactional spaces within it; (ii) police expertise-in-interaction in performing institutionally-defined tasks, and (iii) the co-construction of victims’ responsibility in relation to the reported events. The Critical Discourse Analysis framework (Fairclough IJJX) is grounded in a fine-grained conversation-analytic approach (Sacks et al. IJZS) to shed light on the moment-by-moment manifestations of power in this consequential speech context. The findings are critically interpreted in relation to the victims’ vulnerability, the police-victim relationship and the nature of the evidence produced. With rare access to authentic FRC data, this thesis contributes valuable new knowledge about the nature of talk and the construction of power in this pivotal context. The findings reveal FRC interaction to be characterised by tensions between the dis/empowering processes of protection, agentialisation, mediation, entextualisation and domination. Adapting the victim’s territory for a (typically high-pressure) interaction involves reconfiguring interactional spaces and redistributing authority, with parallels between ownership of the setting, narrative authority and the coherence of the initial account of the incident. The co-construction of police expertise is shown to hinge on officers’ ability to harness the various positionings available to them during FRCs to progress their objectives without amplifying the inherent power imbalance between speakers. Finally, victims orient to their own responsibility while describing and making sense of what has happened to them, and officers’ discursive choices are instrumental in crystallising victims’ subject positions within their ongoing lifeworld and legal storylines

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 October 2022
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2022 14:51

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