The value of ‘bearing witness’ to desistance

Anderson, S. E. (2016) The value of ‘bearing witness’ to desistance. Probation Journal, 63(4), pp. 408-424. (doi:10.1177/0264550516664146)

141474.pdf - Accepted Version



This paper aims to contribute to the debate on making probation practice ‘desistance-focused’. It does this through considering the body of knowledge on responding to trauma through ‘bearing witness’ to the person’s story – attending to their values and lived experience – and applying this to probation practice. It addresses why the literature on trauma has relevance to work with people who have offended. Then it explores the epistemological, performative, moral and political dimensions of ‘bearing witness’ and the relevance of each of these to desistance. It highlights the potentially critical role of the audience (in this case the probation practitioner) in the co-construction of the desistance narrative. Additionally, the paper argues that insufficient attention has been paid to the moral space in which such narratives are co-constructed. In a context where the voices of people who have offended are silenced and their experiences of victimisation or structural violence are written out, I suggest that ‘being present and being with another’ (Naef, 2006: 146) enacts a moral responsibility to support a transition from object to subject and to recognise and endorse the humanity of those who have committed crimes. The paper provides a practice example of ‘bearing witness’ to desistance. Finally, it addresses potential challenges in asking probation officers to ‘bear witness’ to desistance.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Anderson, Ms Sarah
Authors: Anderson, S. E.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Journal Name:Probation Journal
ISSN (Online):1741-3079
Published Online:31 August 2016
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 The Author
First Published:First published in Probation Journal 63(4): 408-424
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
591541ESRC Doctoral Training Centre 2011...Mary Beth KneafseyEconomic and Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/J500136/1VPO VICE PRINCIPAL RESEARCH & ENTERPRISE