Talking Violence, Constructing Identity : Young Men in Institutional Care

Abstract: The aim of the study is to investigate how young men constructing identities in talk about their own use of violence. The study is based on a fieldwork at a youth detention home in Sweden. The data consists of individual interviews and video recordings of the treatment programme Aggression Replacement Training (ART). Detailed analyses have been made of conversations between the young men, between the young men and the trainers, and of the narratives generated in the individual interviews. The study has a social constructionist approach to identity, which is seen as constructed in a joint achievement in social interaction. An important analytical perspective in the study is how social categories and subcategories are constructed. The study has a particular focus on gender, primarily masculinity, but age and ethnicity are also being emphasised.The analysis draws on four empirical studies. It is shown how the young men construct a preferred self-presentation when talking about violent events. The narratives on violence are either based on experiences or talked about as a hypothetical use of violence. Violence based on personal experience is problematized and legitimized in terms of self-defence, defending friends, restraint and justified violence. Narratives of violence are shown to be interactional resources available to the young men. When talking about violence, the young men can be seen to regulate social relations, and to position themselves in relation to particular discourses of masculinity. The specific understanding of what it entails to be a man enables the use of violence with respect to social categorizations such as age, ethnicity or criminal identity. It is also argued that the treatment programme ART may, at times, facilitate maintaining a criminal identity.