February 21


02:00 pm - 04:00 pm

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Social Work Department, School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh


Chrystal Macmillan Building, Seminar Room 1, The University of Edinburgh

15a George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LD

Edinburgh, Edinburgh, GB, EH8 9LD

The University of Edinburgh Social Work Seminar


Social Work at the University of Edinburgh presents a seminar on research, theory and practice on narratives, interaction and desistance from crime. The presenters are Mari Todd-Kvam (Uppsala University), Dr Eve Mullins (The University of Edinburgh) and Dr Steve Kirkwood (The University of Edinburgh). The seminar explores how people narrate and account for their processes of moving away from offending behaviour, and how social work and probation practice figures in people’s processes of change. The event is free to attend and aimed at both researchers and practitioners.

Meetings that matter: co-construction of desistance narratives in encounters with the system, with others and with oneself (Mari Todd-Kvam, Uppsala University)

Desistance theory points to narrative identity as central to the process of desisting from crime. But narrative identity change is a fundamentally social process: the stories we tell about ourselves, including those of desistance from crime, are created and re-created through our experiences interacting with those around us. What makes such meetings matter? Based on a multilevel analysis of desistance narratives, I present desisting persons’ own stories of the encounters that mattered to them during their desistance process. Conceptualizing these moments of change as “innovative moments”, I show how they occur in meetings with the system, with other persons and with new ways of relating to oneself. I will discuss what it is that makes these meetings significant from an interactional and psycho-social perspective, using the concept of recognition and discussing a relational perspective on agency. Finally, I will discuss some implications for professional practice, and briefly outline how my on-going research addresses some of them.

Constructing desistance narratives in interaction (Dr Eve Mullins, The University of Edinburgh)

Identity change plays an important part in the process of desistance from crime (i.e., the transition from an offending to a non-offending lifestyle). Yet we know little about how Justice Social Work interventions can support peoples’ shift in identity from ‘offender’ to ‘non-offender’. Drawing from the findings of a study examining the interactions in a groupwork programme addressing sexual offending, I will discuss how the subtle use of language actively shapes and constructs clients’ identities in situ. I will outline how aspects of identity considered to promote desistance, such as expressing a core moral self or having hope for the future, can be prompted and encouraged serving as building blocks for a new non-offending identity. Finally, in this presentation, I will highlight the delicate business of balancing risk management with the goal of promoting desistance.

Positive reinforcement in probation practice (Dr Steve Kirkwood, The University of Edinburgh)

Positive reinforcement is a key part of probation practice, and linked to client desistance from offending. The main way practitioners positively reinforce clients’ prosocial comments or behaviours is through praising them. However, praise is tricky in interaction, as people are under pressure to accept the positive assessment whilst also avoiding self-praise. This presentation presents findings from a study applying conversation analysis to video recordings of probation sessions in Jersey, examining how praise features and functions in practice, and how clients respond. It will explore how practitioners and clients manage the practice and dilemmas of praise, drawing out the implications for practice.

Speaker biographies

Mari Todd-Kvam is a practicing clinical psychologist and doctoral student at the department of Social Work, at the University of Uppsala. She has professional experience working with persons who perpetrate intimate partner violence. Her research is aimed at understanding change processes, in particular away from violence perpetration, both within and outside the professional-client relationship. She is particularly interested in unpacking how the conversations that support such change unfolds, and understand them in a wider psycho-social context. The purpose of her research is to develop knowledge that can support social and professional efforts towards reducing and ending violence perpetration. She has published in international journals such as the British Journal of Criminology, and co-authored a Norwegian textbook in social work.

Dr Eve Mullins is a Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh. Eve is a qualified social worker, with previous professional experience in justice social work. She is interested in understanding how social workers engage people they are working with, particularly through using interactional research methods to look inside the ‘black box’ of practice. Her main research interests are interaction in justice social work, and understanding and responding to domestic abuse and sexual abuse.

Dr Steve Kirkwood is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh. His research is aimed at understanding issues of identity and citizenship in relation to justice and injustice, and exploring the ethics and effectiveness of responses to crime, with the purpose of improving society’s response to those who have caused or been harmed by crime or injustice. His main areas of research are interaction in justice social work / probation, restorative justice, and the response to refugees. He was first author of the book, The Language of Asylum: Refugees and Discourse. His work has been published in a range of international journals, including the British Journal of Social Psychology, British Journal of Social Work, European Journal of Criminology, and Criminology & Criminal Justice.

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