Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Law

Research Student: Christina Valeska Straub

Love as human virtue and human need and its role in (rethinking) rehabilitation, the prison experience and desistance - A qualitative exploratory study

Photo of Christina Valeska Straub

In my PhD thesis I want to explore the question, if and how love as HUMAN VIRTUE and HUMAN NEED could or should play a meaningful role as facilitator of personal development and change in offender rehabilitation, the prison experience, and desistance. It will be informed and guided by qualitative research methods as well as drawing on the academic fields of moral philosophy, positive psychology, brain research and sociology.

To build the empirical underpinning of my theory I aim to conduct ethnographic research (fieldwork) in a suitable correctional facility. This will include participant observation as well as in-depth interviews with inmates, prison staff, offender managers and probation workers about the absence and presence of love in their life-worlds and work.

I hope that my thesis will provide a basis for further studies and research into the potential benefits of promoting positive human development and growth based on offenders´ personal strengths whilst serving a prison sentence. Ideally this will lead to the development of (quantitative+qualitative) measurement tools to assess the effectiveness of prison/probation interventions centred around human virtues, (victim) empathy, personal development, change and desistance.

Background

My vocation is centred around qualitative social research/ethnography. I have graduated as CULTURAL SCIENTIST (MA - Major: Comparative Social Sciences) at the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the European-University-Viadrina, Germany in 2009 with an ethnographic study about the construction of individual identity in the subculture of Hot Rodding. 

My first post-graduation employment has led me to work as full-time Research Assistant for the Prisons Research Centre at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. Together with Professor Alison Liebling and Helen Arnold I conducted a study from 2009-2011 about staff-prisoner-relationships in a high-security prison commissioned by the UK Home Office. After that I have been working as freelance ethnographic interviewer for market research companies BAMM and THE BIG SOFA. I also completed a qualitative evaluation of RESTORE (a victim empathy, restorative justice programme for prisons and non-custodial settings) for London based charity THE FORGIVENESS PROJECT, and will be completing a diploma in GROUP FACILITATION, CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND COUNSELLING SKILLS towards the end of 2014.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I was inspired to develop my project, whilst conducting above named study of staff prisoner relationships. Writing up the findings I found myself working on chapters like ‘Identity Change and Self-Improvement’ or identifying ‘Sources of Hope, Recognition and Humanity’ in prison. It was striking how little topics like love, meaning, and reconciliation were part of prison regimes, policies and academic literature. This sparked a strong interest in me to critically examine the background and implications of this moral and human dilemma. Why should the absence or presence of love matter in the criminal justice system after all?

What makes me passionate about my subject?

Generally, I aim to pursue a future career in qualitative, empirical social research. Learning about people, listening to their stories, and gaining insight into socially and individually constructed (life-)worlds is my vocation and passion. Prison ethnography specifically though has proven to capture my academic interest over the past 5 years. These institutions can be places of profound insight into an immense range of human emotion, social and individual values, belief systems and structures. It is my belief that prisons ultimately work as magnifying glasses of current social and political climates. I am passionate about understanding ´what goes on´ in prison as deeply as possible. In my view this kind of research can be used to inform policies aimed at improving and reforming a system that has undergone and will undergo many changes over the course of time.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

Once I have completed my PhD I want to work as post-doc researcher in the field of prison ethnography/ prisons research. I can also see myself working as qualitative researcher for (third sector) organisations dedicated to offender rehabilitation, reintegration and self-development.

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