All in the Head? A Feminist Critique of Subjective Theory

  • Úna BarrEmail author
Part of the Critical Criminological Perspectives book series (CCRP)


In patriarchal society where women’s equality is not forthcoming, women are stigmatised on a daily basis for deviating from socially constructed gender norms when they resist or fail in their roles as mothers, daughters and partners. Furthermore, it is noted that stigma occurs when a person does not conform to desired socially constructed roles. When women are seen as offenders, not only have many of them resisted gender norms but they have also violated moral and legal norms. Ideas around identity change (particularly surrounding women’s relational identities) are also explored in this chapter. Criminalised women are often constructed as falling within the offender/victim/survivor trichotomy. This chapter will contend that this is problematic. When women self-identify as offenders or ex-offenders, this can result in either a self-fulfilling prophecy or a positive move towards desistance, depending on the availability of alternative meaning structures. When women are socially identified as offenders, the result tends to be the former. Yet when women are constructed solely as victims, their agency disappears.


Subjective Theory Hope Self-Efficacy Stigma Identity 


  1. Aresti, A., Eatough, V., & Brooks-Gordan, B. (2010). Doing Time After Time: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Reformed Ex-Prisoners’ Experiences of Self-change, Identity and Career Opportunities. Psychology Crime and Law, 16(3), 169–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bottoms, A., & Shapland, J. (2011). Steps Toward Desistance Among Male Young Adult Recidivists. In S. Farrall, M. Hough, S. Maruna, & R. Sparks (Eds.), Escape Routes: Contemporary Perspectives on Life After Punishment. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Bottoms, A., Shapland, J., Costello, A., Holmes, D., & Muir, G. (2004). Towards Desistance: Theoretical Underpinnings for an Empirical Study. The Howard Journal, 43(4), 368–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braithwaite, J. (1989). Crime, Shame and Reintegration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burnett, R., & Maruna, S. (2004). So Prison Works, Does It? The Criminal Careers of 130 Men Released from Prison under Home Secretary, Michael Howard. Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 43, 390–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlsson, C. (2012). Processes of Intermittency in Criminal Careers: Notes from a Swedish Study on Life Courses and Crime. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 57(8), 913–938.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Christie, N. (1986). The Ideal Victim. In E. Fattah (Ed.), From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. Basingstoke: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  9. Christie, N. (2004). A Suitable Amount of Crime. Abingdon: Psychology Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarke, B., & Chadwick, K. (2018). From ‘Troubled’ Women to Failing Institutions: Necessary Narrative Shifts in Decarceration of Women Post-Corston. In L. Moore, P. Scraton, & A. Wahidin (Eds.), Women’s Imprisonment and the Case for Abolition: Critical Reflections on Corston Ten Years On. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Davies, P. (2011). Gender, Crime and Victimisation. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  12. Faith, K. (2011). Unruly Women: The Politics of Confinement and Resistance. New York: Seven Stories Press.Google Scholar
  13. Farrall, S. (2002). Rethinking What Works with Offenders. Cullompton: Willan.Google Scholar
  14. Farrall, S., & Calverley, A. (2006). Understanding Desistance from Crime (Crime and Justice Series). London: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Ferraro, K. (2006). Neither Angels nor Demons: Women, Crime, and Victimization. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Giordano, P. C., Cernokovich, S. A., & Rudolph, J. L. (2002). Gender, Crime and Desistance: Toward a Theory of Cognitive Transformation. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 990–1064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goffman, E. (1968). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Harmondsworth: Pelican Books.Google Scholar
  18. Hart, E. L. (2017). Prisoners Post-Release, The Need for a Critical Desistance. In E. L. Hart & F. J. C. Van Ginneken (Eds.), New Perspectives on Desistance. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heidensohn, F., & Silvestri, M. (2012). Gender and Crime. In M. Maguire, R. Morgan, & R. Reiner (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (pp. 336–369).Google Scholar
  20. Jamieson, J., McIvor, G., & Murray, C. (1999). Understanding Offending Amongst Young People. Edinburgh: The Scottish Executive.Google Scholar
  21. Jordan, J. (2004). Beyond Belief? Police, Rape and Women’s Credibility. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 4(1), 29–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Katz, J. (1988). Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  23. Kennedy, H. (1993). Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  24. Laub, J., & Sampson, R. (2003). Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  25. LeBel, T. P., Burnett, R., Maruna, S., & Bushway, S. (2008). The “Chicken and Egg” of Subjective and Social Factors in Desistance from Crime. European Journal of Criminology, 5(11), 131–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Leverentz, A. (2014). The Ex-Prisoner’s Dilemma: How Women Negotiate Competing Narratives of Re-entry and Desistance. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Levi-Strauss, C. (1962). The Savage Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Lloyd, A. (1995). Doubly Deviant, Doubly Damned: Society’s Treatment of Violent Women. London: Penguin Social Sciences.Google Scholar
  29. Maruna, S. (2001). Making Good – How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild Their Lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maruna, S., & LeBel, T. P. (2003). Welcome Home? Examining the “Re-entry Court” Concept from a Strength Based Perspective. Western Criminology Review, 4, 91–107.Google Scholar
  31. Matsueda, R. L., & Heimer, K. (1997). ‘A Symbolic Interactionist Theory of Role Transitions’, Role Commitments. In T. P. Thonberry (Ed.), Advances in Criminological Theory, Vol. 7, Developmental Theories of Crime and Delinquency. New Brunswick: Transaction.Google Scholar
  32. Matthews, R., Easton, H., Reynolds, L., Bindel, J., & Young, L. (2014). Exiting Prostitution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Matza, D., & Sykes, G. M. (1957). Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 664–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviourist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Merton, R. K. (1957). Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mills, H. (2015). Addressing Violence Against Women Beyond Criminal Justice. In H. Mills, R. Roberts, & L. Townhead (Eds.), Empower, Resist, Transform: A Collection of Essays (pp. 7–9). London: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.Google Scholar
  37. O’Neill, D. (2017). Film as a Radical Pedagogic Tool. New York/London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Perry, E. (2013). ‘She’s Alpha Male’: Transgressive Gender Performances in the Probation ‘Classroom’. Gender and Education, 25(4), 396–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Prison Reform Trust. (2017). Why Focus on Reducing Women’s Imprisonment? London: Prison Reform Trust.Google Scholar
  40. Probyn, E. (2005). Blush: Faces of Shame. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  41. Radcliffe, P., & Hunter, G. (2013). The Development and Impact of Community Services for Women Offenders: An Evaluation. London: The Institute for Criminal Policy Research, School of Law, Birkbeck College.Google Scholar
  42. Rich, A. (1996). Of Woman Born – Motherhood as Experience and Institution (3rd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  43. Roberts, J. (2015). ‘It Was Do or Die’ – How a Woman’s Experience of Domestic Abuse Can Influence Her Involvement in Crime: A Qualitative Investigation of the Experiences of Community-Based Female Offenders. Doctoral Thesis, University of Leicester, Leicester.Google Scholar
  44. Rumgay, J. (2004). Scripts for Safer Survival: Pathways Out of Female Crime. The Howard Journal, 43(4), 405–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life. London: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Skeggs, B. (1997). Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  47. Smart, C. (1977). Women, Crime and Criminology: A Feminist Critique. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Stubbs, J., & Tolmie, J. (2008). Battered Women Charged with Homicide: Advancing the Interests of Indigenous Women. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 41, 131–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Uggen, C., Manza, J., & Behrens, A. (2004). Less Than the Average Citizen: Stigma, Role Transition and the Civic Reintegration of Convicted Felons. In S. Maruna & R. Immarigeon (Eds.), After Crime and Punishment: Pathways to Offender Reintegration (pp. 261–294). Cullompton: Willan Publishing.Google Scholar
  50. Walklate, S. (2007). Handbook of Victims and Victimology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  51. Worrall, A. (1990). Offending Women: Female Lawbreakers and the CJS. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities and Social ScienceLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK

Personalised recommendations