An Interpretative Phenomenology Approach to a Study


In the past few decades, researchers have increasingly gained interest in understanding women who have a habit of criminal behavior. Whereas men are still considered to be the majority in criminal offences, it is recognizable that women can also engage in criminal behavior and their involvement in certain criminal activities such as assault has been on an increasing trend (Department of Health, 2019). Whereas such crimes might be considered to be less offensive, they have a considerable impact on society and on the criminal justice system. Consequently, researchers have begun to investigate the factors that might contribute to women criminality and to explain the motives of such offences from a theoretical point of view. Indeed, there have been studies evaluating the risk factors for criminality in women but they reveal mixed findings. But, there needs to be further research in this topic area to validate or refute the previous findings.

A recent study by the Department of Health (2019) sought to identify the most predictive and prevalent risk factors for criminality among women and men. After involving at least 95,000 men and 15,000 women, the study found the most criminogenic needs for women were impulsivity, unemployment and poor problem-solving. Interestingly, similar points applied to men. Therefore, it is important to examine whether there are specific risk factors for criminality that apply to women. This will help in determining whether there is a need for different interventions for criminality in women and whether women need a different rehabilitative approach compared to men. The proposed study will provide a theoretical review of the most prominent factors contributing to women’s criminal behavior as well as the theories behind those factors. Furthermore, the study will also underscore whether there is any environmental factors surrounding women’s criminal behavior.


Research Aim

To investigate the risk factors for criminality among women

Research Objectives

To explore why women engage in crime

To identify whether there is a need for different interventions for criminality in women and whether women need a different rehabilitative approach compared to men

To explore environmental factors surrounding women’s criminal behavior.

Barlaj (2016) argues that paucity of knowledge on women’s criminal behavior and the increasing number of criminal acts perpetrated by women is indeed problems to be solved. The lack of knowledge behind the criminal behavior of women makes it difficult for relevant authorities and security experts to develop and implement elaborate measures for preventing or reducing the exponential prevalence of heinous acts such as murder and theft (McDermid, 2014). Warner (2012) also argues that little knowledge on the risk factors for criminality among women has made it difficult for security authorities to prevent little girls as young as 18 years to engage in criminal acts. Particularly, when the authorities do not have adequate information on these risk factors, they are unable to develop education and sensitization programs for addressing such risk factors.

On the same note, Sreejesh et al (2014) argue that despite the availability of good security apparatus and policies to address the issue of criminal violence among male and females, there are still reports of violence and criminal activity, indicating that such measures are not as effective as they should be. Therefore, there is a need to conduct proper research on female-instigated crime so that the relevant authorities have adequate and evidence-based knowledge. Based on the adequate knowledge the relevant authorities can develop effective measures, programs and policies to address them.

The Interpretive Nature of the Proposed Study

The interpretivism research approach is fundamentally based on the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) methodology that takes an idiographic approach to research. It means that the researcher seeks to understand the phenomenon under investigation from the perspective and context of the person experiencing (Sreejesh et al, 2014). In most cases, according to Smith & Shinebourne (2012), the experienced phenomenon is of great significance to the targeted individual and is usually related to a major event of their life. Therefore, by investigating the risk factors for criminality among women, the proposed will use an interpretive approach to understand the women’s experience of factors that contributed to their involvement in the crime. Consequently, the study will seek the participants’ insights on what made them involve in criminality, the context within which they decided to engage in a criminal act, and the experience of how engaging in crime was like.

Smith (2011) asserts that IPA originated from hermeneutics and phenomenology, which research ideas were proposed by prominent scholars such as Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl. It is a qualitative research approach that is a bit distinctive from other research approaches because it is made up of idiographic, interpretative and psychological components (Gill, 2014).

Fundamentally, IPA involves a close examination of the respondents’ experiences and making meaning out of such experiences by drawing from the participants’ accounts of what happened and the context within which the event occurred (Reid et al, 2005). Thus, in the proposed study, 7 participants, together with their relatives will be invited to give an account of what triggered their involvement in crimes. While Reid et al (2005) suggest that 6 participants are a perfect number to gather data from and that any sample between 3 and 15 participants is enough to provide the necessary data for interpretive analysis, the proposed study purposively select 8 participants – through purposive sampling.

Pringle et al (2011) observe that in most cases, participants in IPA studies have a common experience with one another. Therefore, the small scale nature of IPA studies reveals the extent to which the phenomenon under investigation is understood within a particular context and based on a shared context. This applies to the current study, whereby the researcher will target a small sample of respondents who have had a similar experience with criminality, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘homogenous sampling’ (Hefferon & Gil-Rodriguez, 2011). However, the proposed study will be a more advanced version IPA that draws different samples to obtain multiple perspectives on a shared experience i.e. involve husbands or a relative of each participant. Therefore, the total number of respondents will be N=14.

Data Collection

The next IPA element of the proposed study will be data collection. Here, the researcher will gather qualitative data from participants through interviews. Ideally, according to Pietkiewicz & Smith (2014), interviews are suitable for IPA studies because they allow from an open-minded and flexible enquiry. Furthermore, the interviewer will be facilitative and curious as opposed to being interrogative so that they can gather the most in-depth information from the respondents. Barlaj (2016) observes that IPA often involves the gathering of personally salient accounts of the phenomenon under investigation, allowing for in-depth and rich data to be gathered. With this regard, the researcher will collect data in a way that allows them to develop a details verbatim transcript for further interpretation.

Data Analysis

The data analysis procedure in IPA should allow the researcher to reflect on and retain the respondent’s perception s in a non-distorted manner (Sreejesh et al, 2014). This implies that the analyst must suspend their own preconceptions about the data so that they can grasp the participants’ experiential world. Therefore, in the proposed study, the researcher will ensure a detailed coding of the transcripts, considering the participants’ key claims and deriving meaning from those claims. In doing so, the entire data analysis process will be based on a hermeneutic stance, whereby the analyst tries to make sense of the participants’ experiences as narrated during the interviews (McDermid, 2014). Fundamentally, the study’s main aim to understand how engaging in crime as a woman is (phenomenology), and to makes sense of it (interpretation) justifies the use of IPA approaches.

The data analysis process will take a bottom-up approach whereby analyst develops codes of data as opposed to relying on an existing theory to develop codes (McDermid, 2014). Ideally, the bottom-up approach of data analysis is deemed fit for the proposed study because IPA approaches to not test theories but rather useful in developing existing theories. For example, in the proposed study, the researcher will use the existing theory that poor problem-solving abilities among women are a risk factor for criminality to re-examine the adequacy of this theory and establish better ways of preventing criminality tendencies among women. This is particularly possible because IPA enables an open-ended approach to the research question thereby leading the researcher to see things from a new light (Sreejesh et al, 2014).

After the interview data has been transcribed verbatim, the researcher will begin the analysis process, which will ensure that there is a balance between insightful interpretation and phenomenological interpretation of the responses. The researcher will also attempt to maintain an idiomatic focus while to ensure that no variation in data pattern is lost while concentrating on what the transcribed responses mean. The researcher will also maintain a high level of transparency by considering the sample’s contextual detail, their clear account of experiences and illustration of key points to ensure that the IPA study is transferable and pleasurable (Sreejesh et al, 2014).

In conclusion, this paper has identified risk factors for criminality among women as the preferred topic of study in the proposed study and justified the topic by highlighting that gaining knowledge on those risk factors is important in highlighting developing programs and policies to help curb criminal behavior among women. The paper has also discussed the interpretive nature of the proposed study and how it will use the IPA approach to answer the underlying research question. Attached in Appendix 1 is a draft interview schedule for the proposed research.

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Balraj, N. (2016). Participation of women in economic development and crime involvement: A case study of Tamil nadu. Splint International Journal of Professionals, 3(4), 91-97.

Department of Health (2019) Women Convicted of Crime. [Retrieved on 13th Feb 2020].

Gill, M. J. (2014). The Possibilities of Phenomenology for Organizational Research. Organizational Research Methods, 17:2, 118-137.

Hefferon, K., & Gil-Rodriguez, E. (2011). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. The Psychologist.

McDermid, V. (2014). Forensics: An anatomy of crime. London: Profile Books.

Reid, K., Flowers, P. & Larkin, M. (2005) Exploring lived experience: An introduction to Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The Psychologist, 18:1, 20-23.

Sreejesh, S., Mohapatra, S., & Anusree, M. R. (2014). Business research methods: An applied orientation.

Smith, J. A., & Shinebourne, P. (2012). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. American Psychological Association.

Smith, J. A. (2011). Evaluating the contribution of interpretative phenomenological analysis. Health psychology review, 5(1), 9-27.

Pringle, J., Drummond, J., McLafferty, E., & Hendry, C. (2011). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: a discussion and critique. Nurse researcher, 18(3).

Pietkiewicz, I., & Smith, J. A. (2014). A practical guide to using interpretative phenomenological analysis in qualitative research psychology. Psychological journal, 20(1), 7-14.

Warner, J. A. (2012). Women and crime: A reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Appendix 1: Sample Interview questions

What do you think was the common reason why you committed the crime you were convicted for?

How was the reality of committing crime like?

What would you do if your child was in a similar situation?

Do you think your committed the crime due too reasons associated with your female gender?

How did your family react to your conviction?

How did your conviction made you personally feel?

Now that you are out of jail, what is your testimony about criminality?

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