Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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(Re)Thinking Young Men's Violence: a Discursive Critique of Dominant Constructions

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posted on 2021-11-03, 21:07 authored by Grace, Shirley Maree

Legitimated and thereby dominant knowledges of youth violence that aim to explain its causes and develop ways of responding are primarily informed by a positivist scientifically-based mainstream psychology. The purpose of this thesis is to offer ways of (re)thinking youth violence outside of an objectivist paradigm. By examining the significant contextual issues and numerous complexities involved for young men who have been violent, this research critically analyses normative notions of youth violence. The theoretical and methodological foundation for this research employed a critical psychology framework along with a discourse analysis approach informed by poststructural concepts derived, primarily, from Michel Foucault. This research foundation has enabled the dominant constructions of youth violence that are reflected and (re)produced by mainstream psychology to be disrupted and hence the modernist assumptions in the positivist scientific basis of mainstream psychology are questioned. The participants in this study were seven young New Zealand men, aged between 14 and 17, who were incarcerated for violent offences. A poststructural discourse analysis of interviews with these young men critically examined the ways they spoke about their violence, their explanations for it as well as their ideas about intervention. My analysis shows that dominant constructions of youth violence that are (re)produced in mainstream psychology theories as taken-for-granted truths, can position violent young men as 'abnormal', 'deviant' and 'dangerous'. However, participants resisted these pathologising and demonising positions. Instead, they embraced the rational position of 'man'. Dominant discourses around traditional masculinity were identified as being of paramount importance to these young men and showed that successfully performing the subject position of 'man' took precedence for them. Being violent acted as a means for participants to achieve 'being a man'. Against this, therapeutic intervention designed to prevent future violence was viewed as irrelevant to these young men. In addition, the 'therapeutic subject' position made available within discourses of intervention did not enable young men to perform 'man' correctly. Contradictions are highlighted in this thesis, showing the multiple subjectivities of the participants, along with various effects of the differing discourses. This was most pronounced in the differences revealed in participants' talk of their general violence compared to their sexual violence. Since general violence was constructed as a way of 'getting it right as a man', participants spoke in considerable detail about their activities. However, participants were reluctant to talk about their sexual violence and silences predominated. As an alternative, they took up an 'unknowing' position about why they were sexually violent. Sexual violence was constructed as irrational and therefore unknowable. In contrast to not wanting intervention for their general violence, participants talked of a willingness to engage with therapeutic intervention. They positioned intervention experts as being able to make rational sense of their sexual violence and spoke of expectations that this would stop them from being sexually violent again. The limitations of traditional approaches to youth violence have been highlighted in this research. Such approaches are unable to attend to the contextual issues presented here or the complexities of multiple subjectivities. The construction of violence as a way to perform 'man' contests discourses of 'abnormality' that positions young men who have been violent as 'disordered' and 'deviant'. Future theorising about youth violence and subsequent intervention approaches require attending to the significance that normative notions of 'manhood' have in the (re)production of violence.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Studies


Claiborne, Lise; Cornforth, Sue