Bereaved Family Activism in the Aftermath of Lethal Violence

  • Elizabeth Cook

Student thesis: Phd


The boundaries of victimhood have received increasing attention in criminology, particularly considering the recent proliferation in 'trauma talk' or 'trauma creep'. Noting the connections between victims and trauma, there is now increasing recognition of the impact of victimisation, not only on individuals, but upon families, communities and cultures with its effects extending across time, place and person. Following David Garland's assertion of the 'return of the victim' 15 years ago, the interests of victims have moved to centre stage of the criminal justice system with the experiences of some taken to be representative of others. While this has encouraged an appreciation of the extent of suffering in victimisation, it is easy to understand how we might 'lose sight of the individual victim'. This research presents a qualitative study of the phenomenon of bereaved family activism. Findings presented in this thesis are based upon 15 in-depth interviews and participant observations with Mothers Against Violence: a Manchester-based charity that emerged in response to an intense period of gun violence and ensuing community outcry in the 1990s. The aim of this thesis was to explore how victims have confronted and mobilised their experiences of lethal violence to promote acknowledgment and prompt recognition. By refocusing on the individual and foregrounding the victim, this thesis asked how those involved understand, make sense of and give value to their experience in light of their role in Mothers Against Violence. Data collected was analysed through thematic analysis, remembering the embedded nature of such stories in cultural, historical and biographical contexts, communities and the research exchange. Findings are presented as a way of following the stories of individuals to the moment of collective action. The primary contributions of this thesis can be summarised under the following headings; firstly, applications of 'trauma' in victimology; secondly, understanding victim movements such as Mothers Against Violence as spaces for emotional, social and practical learning; thirdly, conceptualising victimisation as one moment in a series of 'turning points'; and fourthly, the role of stories in prompting recognition, encouraging identification and assembling communities.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJonathan Shute (Supervisor)


  • Trauma
  • Victims
  • Bereaved Family Activism

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