chapter  9
Active agents and social contexts
Pages 26

The interview data provided an insight into the prospective viewpoints of individuals seeking to move away from crime. They allowed for an exploration of intended strategies for sustaining desistance, and the identification of perceived challenges that individuals may face along the way. Moreover, the interviews offered an insight into how individuals anticipated reacting to such challenges if and when they should arise. In doing so, the interview data have shown that individuals in the transitional phase of desistance are ‘active agents’ in considering the possibility of change, in considering objectives to achieve change, and in planning how to achieve those objectives (see also Simmonds, 1989). Various structural factors condition would-be desisters to consider a particular type of conformity to which they aspire, and this stems, in part, from the role of probation in proposing future objectives. However, past structures furnish individuals’ present situational contexts with constraining factors that they perceive will inhibit their commitment to these objectives. This chapter examines how individuals consider desistance and how they aim to achieve it in light of the social context within which they find themselves. In doing so, this chapter offers an account of the role of human agency in the transitional phase of desistance. Agency is frequently juxtaposed to structure and is, therefore, often considered to involve free will. It is something that is unique to human beings who, through an interplay of knowledge, intention and adjustment, are able to choose between various courses of action: ‘By nature, humans are flexible and adjusting. Human action is driven by reason; animal behaviour by causes. Humans have free wills; they can always do otherwise or nothing’ (Fuchs, 2002: 26). Even in doing nothing, individuals may make a conscious decision to do so. However, agency is more complex than choosing a particular course of action (Elster, 1989). Individuals may choose one course of action even though an alternative was available, but this does not account for why or how they came to settle on that particular course of action. Likewise, individuals may make adjustments, alter plans, or change courses of action altogether, but again this does not offer any insight into the underpinning processes which led the individual to this. In order to more fully understand the nature of human agency in the transitional phase of desistance, a more comprehensive understanding of agency is required.