Thesis title: ‘Stealing Stories’?: Investigating Language, Narrative, and Power in the Contemporary Scottish Criminal Courts
I grew up traveling back and forth between Romania and the United States, then came to the UK to study. While my strongest talents have always been in the hard sciences and maths, my life-blood was literature and writing. A turn to the social sciences satisfied both interests.
I have spent the last three years as a support worker at temporary accommodation for homeless women, helping individuals address issues of housing, substance abuse, criminal history, and mental ill-health. In the third sector, I have also worked as a Romanian interpreter/ translator and a befriender for individuals with alcohol-related brain damage. My other professional experience lies in research, with my most recent role being a research assistant with Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University – ‘Self-Employment in Contexts of Poverty.’ Prior to this, my research and output have ranged widely from teacher guides for foreign films (International Cinema Education, NYC); to international relations (Permanent Romanian Mission to the US, NYC); to museum exhibitions for naval history (National Museum for the U.S. Navy, Washington DC).
MSc with Distinction Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Edinburgh
BA First Class with Honours English Language and Literature, University of Oxford
Current research interestsCourtroom procedure; Desistence from crime; Childhood trauma and crime; Restorative justice; Language and power; Narrative identity; Performativity; Discourse/ Conversation Analysis
‘We tried to illuminate the role that language plays in the law’s frequent failure to deliver on its basic promise of equal treatment. The single issue that emerged over and over was the centrality of language in the production, exercise, and subversion of legal power.’ (Conley and O’Barr, 1993)
Conley and O’Barr (1993) described as axiom of the court experience that participants leave with a ‘sense’ of unfairness, a ‘feeling’ that ‘the power of the law is more accessible to some than to others’ (p.3) In 2004, Scotland saw the passage of the Vulnerable Witnesses Act which allows procedural adjustments for certain disadvantaged groups. This not only illustrates institutional acknowledgment of the potential for harm as a result of court experiences (Bottoms and Roberts, 2010) but also highlights that Conley and O’Barr’s observation continues to be relevant. They identified language as the single most important arena of study in order to understand this phenomenon. However, there is a surprising dearth in Criminology of focus on this main vehicle for the production, reproduction, and potential challenge of power. By paying attention to that which all players in the courtroom use but from different positions of power, we may gain insight into where exactly the persistent sense of unfairness in the courtroom comes from and how we may reduce it.
A rich body of academic work casts the criminal justice system within the U.K. and Scotland as “stealing conflicts” from defendants (e.g. Christie, 1977). This PhD suggests that a more psychologically-aware and contemporary method of conceptualizing this issue is that of “stealing stories.” Telling narratives about ourselves in our own way is not only of crucial psychological value, as vast research on narrative identity shows (e.g. Stevens, 2012), but also of rising interest within the field of criminology (e.g. Sandberg and Ugelvik, 2016). This project will therefore explore how stories are linguistically stolen in Scottish courts – or indeed whether enabled or championed – in order to provide an arena for its challenge.
Current project grants
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) scholarship through the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences (SGSSS)