Researching Homicide Offenders, Offenses and Detectives Using Qualitative Method

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    Researching homicide presents unique challenges for qualitative researchers. To begin with, one vital half of the victim-offender dyad is inaccessible to researchers. Consequently, while we have learned a great deal about many other offenses (such as domestic violence or sex offences) by analyzing victim’s accounts, we are never able to access the voice of the victim for this most serious act of violence. Furthermore, gaining access to killers, to homicide detectives and prosecutors, or to detailed homicide data (such as homicide investigation files) presents many challenges due to the sensitive nature of the data and the closed world of major crime investigation.
    Nevertheless, a small number of qualitative researchers have for many years undertaken research into various kinds of homicide. Moreover, they have reached into areas hitherto untapped by quantitative researchers. This is not surprising, given that qualitative techniques permit unrivalled insights into people’s inner thoughts, reflections, actions, and lived experiences.
    Drawing on examples from my own research with murderers and homicide detectives, as well as the experiences of other researchers, this chapter represents an attempt to appraise the benefits, challenges, pitfalls, and promises of qualitative research on homicide. It is notable that, despite a well-established qualitative research tradition within sociology, criminological research into homicide has overwhelmingly been quantitative. Hence, the challenges, yet considerable conceptual rewards, of undertaking qualitative research on this sensitive topic have gone largely undocumented. For example, in the last decade, the journal Homicide Studies has published over 220 articles on the topic of homicide but less than ten of these (a mere four per cent) have adopted qualitative research techniques . This quantitative bias is also evident if we consider particular sub-topics of homicide. For example, there is a growing body of research examining what factors contribute to homicide clearances. This literature is dominated by quantitative research, predominantly from the United States, that relies on the statistical analysis of data gathered from local police agencies or national data on homicide incidents. As will be revealed later in this chapter, qualitative research methodologies can, and have, brought important insights to research questions such as these—not least because by their very nature they reveal the devil in the detail.
    Part one considers qualitative research with homicide offenders and, briefly, documentary sources. Part two deals with qualitative research with homicide detectives where I offer a personal reflexive account of my recent ethnographic research with homicide detectives in the United States. Throughout the chapter I endeavor to illustrate how particular qualitative studies or techniques have provided new insights into the phenomenon of homicide. I will end with some final thoughts about the impacts of qualitative research on the researcher.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Qualitative Criminology
    EditorsHeith Copes, J Mitchell Miller
    Place of PublicationNew York
    ISBN (Electronic)9780203074701
    ISBN (Print)9780415659703
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Publication series

    NameRoutledge International Handbooks


    • Homicide research
    • offenders
    • victims
    • offences
    • homicide investigations
    • United Kingdom
    • Qualitative research
    • homicide detectives


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