chapter  5
Obtaining accounts of probation
Pages 15

This study aimed to contribute to the existing knowledge on desistance from crime in three predominant ways. First, the study was designed to explore the strategies formulated to sustain desistance. While it is acknowledged that desisters tend to construct plans for the future (Maruna, 2001), little attention has been paid to the content or scope of these. In part, this may be a consequence of the methodological implications of retrospective research designs, which may be limited by instances of cognitive dissonance or rationalisation as research subjects seek to construct a coherent narrative. Indeed, the validity of retrospective research depends upon the memory recall of participants (Hegney et al., 2007: 1184), and cognition can lead to retrospective justifications or rationalisations for particular actions (Thakker et al., 2007: 15). Second, this study was designed to explore the role of human agency in the early stages of desistance. Desistance from crime is now widely acknowledged to be the product of an interaction between structural and agentic factors (Barry, 2009). However, there is little detailed understanding of how meaningful social attachments and agentic orientation interact and, in particular, how this interaction might be temporally contingent (Bottoms et al., 2004: 382). Third, the study was designed to explore the impact of probation on the early stages of desistance. A body of literature exists which examines the interface between desistance and probation (Rex, 1999; Farrall, 2002; McCulloch, 2005; Farrall and Calverley, 2006), but there is considerable room for more research in this area. The central theme within this study, therefore, is based upon the proposition that individuals act in an agential manner throughout the desistance process, but that the capacity to exercise agency is conditioned by the social context that the individual resides in. Capturing the essence of this agentic capacity in empirical research poses several difficulties. First, the various characteristics which constitute human agency in the desistance process are, in reality, difficult to separate from one another and are likely to interact in a complex and multilayered manner. Second, in order to understand how human agency operates in the desistance process it is important to understand how individuals mediate the effect of various structural properties, and how this impacts upon subsequent decisions, attitudes and behaviours. Third, if the study of desistance transitions is concerned with how individuals respond in the immediate aftermath of making a decision to desist and,

therefore, with the goals and projects in relation to this which individuals commit to, then an account of how would-be desisters decide upon these is required. It is also necessary to employ a methodological approach which is capable of distinguishing between reflexivity at the time that decisions are made, and reflexivity which is rationalised after the event. This is necessary, in part, as reflexivity in the present tense will reflect the influence of structural inequalities and barriers in the social context, as well as those which may contain enabling properties. There is also considerable value in exploring agentic considerations contemporaneously as this is more likely to unearth a more accurate picture of individuals’ strategies for desistance.