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Working Title of PhD: A criminological exploration of the role of hope in the desistance journey viewed through a theological lens

Year commenced PhD study: 2017 (thesis pending 2021)

Institution/Organisation: University of Glasgow

Funding Source (if any): College of Social Science Scholarship

Full or part-time: Full-time

PhD Supervisors: Professor Fergus McNeill and Dr Doug Gay

Synopsis of PhD

Weaver’s (2016) research revealed narratives naming hope, to varying degrees, as a contributing factor to desistance. For some, hope was very targeted, and goal based, whilst others used hope to describe a state of being. Conversely, Schinkel and Nugent (2016) show, that for some, hope often led to disappointment therefore becoming a source of pain rather than encouragement. This research examines this concept of hope often mentioned in desistance literature but rarely fully explored. The elusive nature of hope is addressed by using creative methods such as photography, collage, painting and drawing to stimulate memories of hopeful experiences, past and present sources of hope, the need for hope, and/or the futility of hope.

All participants are male, serving, or have served, multiple short-term prison sentences and are at different stages of the desistance journey. Three participant groups were selected in order to compare experiences across various stages of the desistance journey: (1) those approaching release from prison (serving their last 6 weeks), (2) those who had been released from prison between three to six months prior, (3) those who had been out of prison for two or more years. The aim is to discern changes in hopefulness or ideas of hope alongside experiences of desistance.

This is an interdisciplinary project combining criminology and theology. Hope can of course be viewed through the social structures which create an environment in which hopeful characteristics can be developed and hopeful actions displayed. This is of great significance in this research given the significance of relational support in generating hope which is revealed in the data collected. However, interpreting this data on merely a socially constructed level limits the extent to which we can know the value of hopefulness.  The complex nature of human existence and experience can, and should, be examined on various levels, as McGrath suggests, in order that a more rounded picture can be created. The use of theology allows for not only an additional level of knowing, but also a deeper level of examining that which can be known (McGrath 2015). This research offers an invitation to consider a different perspective, it does not contend that this is the only viewpoint, it is one lens which can contribute to a wider and deeper understanding of the overall lives being examined. I do not argue for the existence of God or the need for religion; this project does not lend itself to such discussion. Rather, theology is used as both a guiding analytical tool, and explanatory lens through which participants experiences of both hope and desistance can be viewed and understood.

Keywords: criminology desistance, hope, imagination, participant led photo elicitation, theology



University of Glasgow


SCCJR, Ivy Lodge, 63 Gibson Street
University of Glasgow

Research Themes

Research Methods and Criminological Theory

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