Emerging Narratives in the Wake of Homicide: Victim, Survivor and Transcender

AuthorKristen Lee Discola
Published date01 October 2020
Date01 October 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Emerging Narratives in
the Wake of Homicide:
Victim, Survivor and
Kristen Lee Discola1
This work draws upon participant observation of 96 victim-centred events, 36
intensive interviews with individuals who had lost loved ones to homicide (co-
victims), and content analysis of a variety of written narratives. Using a symbolic
interactionist framework, it presents three narrative types that were found to
emerge in the wake of violent loss. Termed ‘victim’, ‘survivor’, and ‘transcender’
narratives, this paper demonstrates how each narrative type is distinct in terms
of focus, tone and purpose. In doing so, it offers insight into the aftermath of
crime as it relates to the victim experience.
Co-victim, homicide, narrative analysis, qualitative methods, symbolic
interactionism, victimization, violence/abuse
The narratives individuals construct and deliver provide a unique lens through
which we can come to better understand the multifaceted effects of their
experiences. This is especially true in cases of violent criminal victimization, such
as homicide. In this article, I will present three narrative types that I found to
emerge after extreme criminal victimization: victim, survivor and transcender
narratives. I will show how each is distinct in terms of focus, tone and purpose.
Exploration of these narratives offers insight into the aftermath of criminal
victimization as it relates to the internal experience of crime victims as they
incorporate the experience of victimization and its repercussions into their sense
of self and the connection between self and the wider social world.
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
3(2) 202–218, 2020
2021 National Law
Universit y Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2516606920972044
1 California State University, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Corresponding author:
Kristen Lee Discola, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, KH-A3053,
Los Angeles, CA 90032, USA.
E-mail: khourig@calstatela.edu
Discola 203
The Victim Experience and Narrative
When someone becomes a victim of violent crime, they may begin to question the
most fundamental assumptions of life.2 What was once viewed as knowable and
ordered may now be seen as fragile, volatile and unstable. For these reasons,
victims of crime are likely to feel increased levels of vulnerability3 and a sense of
uncertainty about, and disconnection from, their social worlds.4 This is especially
true when the victimization occurs in otherwise benign settings5 or is intentional,6
unanticipated or highly intrusive.7
Especially in cases of serious, unexpected crime that upsets the individual’s
sense of order and predictability, criminal victimization can cause disruption to
one’s life story.8 Such disruption can invoke a sense of severance between the past
and present, because the crime is cognitively structured as a historical event
within the victim’s life story, shaping how the victim sees the self, specific others
and the larger world.9 The construction of narrative allows the victim to ‘bridge’
this severance10 and can help to restore a sense of order and social connection.11
Exploration of narrative allows us to not only better understand events in the past
but also how individuals understand those events12 because it is through the con-
struction of narrative that individuals give meaning to experience and connect
events to other aspects of one’s life story. Therefore, rather than looking to the
narrative to understand the truth of what happened in an objective sense, we
analyse narrative to uncover the meaning-making processes within the story, its
delivery and its reception.
Revision of life narrative allows traumatized individuals to meaningfully
divide experience into distinct sections, and the trauma event may become a
catalyst for a redefinition of self.13 Narrativization is particularly likely when
experiences have caused ‘a breach between ideal and real, self and society’,14 both
of particular relevance within the study of the effects of criminal victimization.
The process of storytelling is used regularly in psychotherapy to help victims of
2 Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Shattered assumptions (New York, NY: Free Press 1992).
3 Id.
4 Heather Strang, Repair or Revenge: Victims and Restorative Justice (New York, NY: Oxford
University Press 2002).
5 Id.
6 Susan J. Brison, Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press 2002).
7 Supra note 3.
8 Michelle Crossley, Narrative Psychology, Trauma and the Study of Self/Identity, 10 Theory Psychol.
527–46 (2000).
9 Id.
10 Supra note 5.
11 Supra note 7
12 Catherine Kohler Riessman, Narrative Analysis, in The Qualitative Researchers Companion,
217–70 (A. M. Huberman & M. B. Miles eds. 2002) (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications).
13 laurence G. calhoun & richard G. tedeschi, Posttraumatic Growth: The Positive Lessons of
Loss, in MeaninG Reconstruction & the Experience of Loss, 157–72 (R. A. Neimeyer ed. 2001).
14 Supra note 11, p. 219.

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