Discourses of violent crime in South Africa : constructing crime, criminals and victims.
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Talk of violent crime in South Africa abounds, with criminal violence as a topic of discussion on many social platforms - from the President‟s State of the Nation address to conversations between people on the street. This study aims to explore the discourses that South Africans use in their accounts of violent crime, what presentation of violent crime is constructed through the use of these discourses, and the effects of such constructions. Using Wetherell and Potter‟s (1992) approach to discourse analysis, the transcripts from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with fifteen participants were analysed to identify and examine the discourses that participants drew on to construct an account of violent crime. Seven central themes were identified in the transcripts. These pertained to the causes of violent crime, the effects of violent crime, prevention and deterrence, victims, responsibility, perpetrators and categorisation of „good‟ and „bad‟ criminals. In the study each of the themes is examined in turn to explore the discourses that are drawn on in the construction of each theme and the presentation of violent crime that is constructed through the use of these discourses. Analysis of the discourses shows that the construction of crime, criminals and victims is complex and that this is often done in such a way as to manage the threat of violent crime. It also shows that race „colours‟ the way we see, understand and construct violent crime. Yet this is not only about the identification of others as particular kinds of people but also about self-identifying, as people actively construct their own identity when constructing violent crime. The way in which we construct violent crime therefore has important implications for the way in which we experience others as well as ourselves. It also has important implications for the interventions that are used and proposed for managing violent crime. An understanding of these discourses and constructions of violent crime will allow us to more effectively evaluate the assumptions on which these interventions are based and thus improve the interventions themselves.