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© Lee Harvey 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY Knife carrying

Riggs and Palasinski (2011) interviewed young white British males who attended one of five youth centres in a large British city.

Our discourse analysis of the interview data suggests that the young men in our sample constructed knife carrying as a legitimate response both to potential threats, and to the lack of management of such threats by those in positions of authority. An example of the latter appears in the statement "We need to carry [knives] 'cos the police just prefer to stroll down the well-lit posh neighbourhoods. They won't go on patrol where the turf is rough and nasty you know". An example of the construction of knife carrying as a form of harm prevention appears in the statement "gangs usually attack in packs and you need something to balance the odds".

They provide other quotes to illustrate their main line of argument in this brief article and, as such, their approach appears to be indistinguishable from any ethnographic study using interview data to explore subject's perceptions (see Section 4)

For example, they state that their sample did not regard knife arrying as irresponsible and they quoted a respondent ": "If your attackers turn you into a veg then they will be free in 1 or 2 years' time anyway. They will play their time away and laugh at you eating through a straw".

The commentary on the perceptions of young men and the subsequent recommendations for appropriate policy and actions continued:

Another interesting feature of the data was that, in attempting to manage an image of themselves both as aware of the issues raised above, but also as law abiding, the young men in our sample typically spoke in the fourth person, an example of this being "You don't have to be gangsta. Like if you and your missus were about to get mugged by some scumbags in a back alley or something. Then she wouldn't mind if you had something". This use of the fourth person allowed our participants to signal their awareness of knife carrying behaviours and to advocate for the necessity of knife carrying, whilst not stating directly that they themselves carried knives....

On the basis of these findings, we would suggest that creating simple associations between knife-carrying and immaturity or deviance might prevent the success of campaigns aimed at reducing this behaviour.... Instead, we argue that preventing knife injuries must involve promoting recognition of the low controllability and unpredictability of knives. Such recognition might help to position knives as actually increasing, rather than decreasing, personal risks for young men. Further...our data would suggest that what is also needed is a more involved police presence aimed at fostering a sense of safety for young men.


Return to 'Non-specific' discourse analysis (Section 6.1.2)