Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Risk Factors and Pathways into and out of Crime, Misleading, Misinterpreted or Mythic? from Generative Metaphor to Professional Myth

Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Risk Factors and Pathways into and out of Crime, Misleading, Misinterpreted or Mythic? from Generative Metaphor to Professional Myth

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to explore how the notions of risk factor research and pathways into and out of crime have attained the status of professional myth. The argument it puts forward is not about the rights or wrongs of policy or practice based on risk factor research. Partly this is because it is not written by a criminologist but by a researcher interested in ethnographic work with young people and their local communities. Neither is it primarily an argument about the truthfulness or falsehood of myths. Rather, it is a discussion of how a model has moved from being a generative metaphor to a professional myth. In making this argument the article offers a critique of the complex relationship between the values and beliefs of practitioners and their interactions with the discourses, ideologies and structures around them. In arguing that 'pathways' has moved from a generative metaphor (Schon, 1993) to professional myth the article explores how myths function socially within different groups of professions, and the relationship between their social function and individual use. This argument is in part derived from an exploration of the cultural status of any given myth within a profession and the metaphors that underpin them. The discussion of the process of mythmaking, and its impact on professionals is illustrated principally through an analysis of the narratives offered by two different professionals working with young people.


This article is a view from the outside looking in. It is written from the perspective of a researcher working ethnographically within urban communities interested in issues of identity and how practitioners respond to the discourses around them. It is not written by a criminologist with an extensive knowledge of the literature generated in this field. The aims of the article are threefold. First, to argue that the notion of the pathway as a means of explaining young peoples' engagement in criminal and deviant behaviour is increasingly problematic as it has gained mythic status. Second, to argue that the failure to recognise the notion of the pathway as ideologically marked and mythopoeic (Flood, 2002) means that it has become part of a disabling rather than enabling discourse. Third, to argue this has repercussions for how young people, like those from Urbanfields that participated in this research, are treated in the criminal justice system.

To achieve these aims the discussion firstly traces the movement between the risk factor model and the notion of the 'pathway' as a 'generative' metaphor to its becoming a part of the belief systems of different communities of practice concerned with young people and deviancy. From here the article explores how the notion of the pathway has attained the status of professional myth as these groups seek to resolve the dilemmas they are faced with in their everyday practice. This is not an argument fundamentally with the world of risk factor research or the models that have sprung from it. Nor is it an argument based around myth as speech acts or sense making practices, although mythical language is commonly used as a linguistic device and shortcut (Barthes, 2000). Instead the perspective I want to take on myth is similar to that adopted by anthropologists like Douglas (1966) who use the notion of taboo and taboo breaking and link these to notions of deviance and breaking cultural norms. From this perspective the argument presented in this article concerns the 'sacred' aspect of empirically based knowledge and the way the work becomes taken up and used.

The last sections of this article use the data generated by the research to illustrate the argument that the pathway metaphor has achieved the status of ideologically marked conventional wisdom and has attained mythic status. This, it is argued, is to the detriment of the work ethics of some professionals and the young people they work with.

From Model to Metaphor

In the 1960s Becker wrote about the 'deviant career'. …

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