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Constructing and Reconstructing Criminality in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Dominant Media Discourses on Crime and Criminality and their Impact on Offenders’ Identities and Rehabilitation Efforts

This study investigates the dominant media discourses and ideologies surrounding crime and criminality in Aotearoa/New Zealand, how such discourses are constructed and legitimised by media reporting of crime, and the implications of these discourses for deemed offenders. The study firstly involves a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of ‘mainstream’ media reports relating to crime and criminality in Aotearoa/New Zealand over a 12-month period – paying particular attention to the reporting evident in two major newspaper outlets. This analysis reveals two key themes: the construction of criminal offenders as undeserving criminalised others – particularly through the use of truth-claims about criminality and the simplification of offenders’ identities – and the legitimisation of retributive, tough-on-crime, responses to offending. The analysis of media discourses is augmented by an ethnographic study of an offender rehabilitation programme. This investigation is used to explore how dominant discourses and ideologies on crime and criminality contribute to the construction of offenders’ self-identities, the impact of such identity construction on their patterns of offending and rehabilitation, as well as the ways in which these discourses are contested (or reinforced) by those deemed ‘offenders’. This follow-up ethnographic case study involves participant observation, focus groups and interviews with participants of the Good Lives Model offender rehabilitation programme at Anglican Action in Hamilton over a 12-month period. The participants of this programme are men transitioning back into the community after serving significant prison sentences. The ethnographic investigation reveals the ways the otherising discourses exposed in the CDA are present for, and effect, the men as they make the challenging journey out of prison, particularly in their experiences of discrimination and otherisation when seeking to engage with, and transition back into, the wider community. This exploration also reveals a nuanced negotiation of identity and power, whereby the men both draw on and challenge the dominant discourses at different times in the process of negotiating an identity position and accessing agency within a marginalising discursive framework. Thus, the discourse analysis and the ethnographic study together provide rich insights into the pervasive impacts of dominant public constructions of criminality on offenders’ sense of identity and on their attempts to reintegrate with society. The study concludes by arguing that the CDA and ethnographic investigation together emphasise the need to challenge the destructive nature of the dominant discourses and cultivate a more inclusive and reasoned discursive framework for exploring ideas around crime and criminality in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The thesis argues that one way to counter the ‘wilful blindness’ exemplified in media and public discourses, is through the use of story for it is through listening and seeking to know the other that we can begin to have our assumptions challenged. It is important to note that this thesis in no way endorses any criminal offending nor does it seek to minimise the pain and suffering of any victims of crime. Rather, it argues that such a dualistic understanding of crime, and the relationship between victims and offenders, only inhibits our ability to look at the issues surrounding crime and criminality with clarity.
Type of thesis
Riches, M. (2014). Constructing and Reconstructing Criminality in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Dominant Media Discourses on Crime and Criminality and their Impact on Offenders’ Identities and Rehabilitation Efforts (Thesis, Master of Management Studies (MMS)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9361
University of Waikato
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