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The construction of 'innocence': comparing responses to criminal accusations across legal and non-legal settings

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posted on 11.03.2019, 10:16 by Louise J. White
This thesis explores the discursive construction of innocence in responses to criminal accusations across different interactional settings. Constructing innocence here refers to the achievement of interactional tasks, such as deflecting or avoiding blame, across both admissions and denials. With the birth of the television and the internet, accountability for a criminal act does not stop and start within legal settings. Suspects may construct innocence publicly, and regardless of any legal decision made. It is important to examine this in order to demonstrate the discursive resources accessible to suspects responding to criminal accusations in their specific interactional setting compared to suspects responding to criminal accusations in others. The data acquired for this study therefore comprises police interviews, television journalist interviews, and internet vlogs. The pre-existing and naturally occurring interactions collected each contain an individual s response to a criminal accusation. These interactions are analysed using discursive psychology (DP) to examine how psychological matters are discursively negotiated as part of suspects minimisation of blame. The analysis also explores the role of context, and if and how suspects discursive exonerative practices orient to affordances of the interactional setting within which they are performed. The three analytic chapters of this thesis respectively demonstrate how suspects responses to criminal accusations: 1) claim epistemic primacy about their level of involvement in the alleged offence; 2) detach the alleged crime from a criminal category, and themselves from incumbency in that category; and 3) claim incumbency in the category victim . Overall, the findings reveal that suspects utilise the conversational tools of everyday talk available to them, as well as orientations to, or subversions of, the conventions of their setting. The findings in this thesis also demonstrate that the categories of criminal / non-criminal , perpetrator / victim , and guilty / innocent are not so bifurcated when it comes to their construction in interaction. The thesis extends our understanding of the interactional manifestation of innocence , particularly the under-researched area of how affordances of different interactional settings (ways in which speakers are enabled or restricted to discursively do something) may be made relevant by the suspects. It significantly examines different ways suspects can respond to criminal accusations in the era of the internet, comparing public, non-legal settings with the police interview setting, and how these can happen because of what is discursively and technologically available to the suspects here. This thesis addresses these matters for the first time, thus contributing to the field of DP by demonstrating how psychological business and categorisation is discursively built in suspects interactions across both legal and non-legal settings.





  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Louise White

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.