While the social sciences are experiencing narrative and emotional turns that are largely based on exploratory and theoretical qualitative research, the problematic dismissal of qualitative research approaches continues to loom large outside academia. Frequently described as a collection of “anecdotal stories,” qualitative research is dismissed as unscientific and unreliable— comments that limit the perceived usefulness of qualitative findings, especially in terms of policy reform. This article problematizes evaluating qualitative research according to quantitative measures of rigour and explores the richness and value of documenting experiential stories and the process of storying in social science research. Notably, we take up the issues of criminal record suspension (pardons) and the abolition of carceral segregation as two case studies to demonstrate how the qualitative value of experiential research and personal stories are simultaneously mobilized and rejected by key actors such as politicians, government researchers, and judges. Our analysis highlights the power that stories have when it comes to influencing change within the criminal justice system, depending on who takes up/rejects these stories. We conclude with a discussion of why stories matter and how, when “layered,” they can contribute to the production of meaningful interventions to the ongoing criminalization and punishment of vulnerable people.


Qualitative Research, Narrative Research, Case Study, Criminology, Criminal Justice Reform

Author Bio(s)

Samantha McAleese is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at Carleton University. Her research examines the changes made to Canada’s pardon system and the impact of these changes on people with criminal records and the work of non-profit organizations that provide re-entry supports. Her research is driven by her frontline experiences which indicate a growing need for community-based resources – especially as individuals become burdened by increasingly punitive criminal justice policies. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: samantha.mcaleese@carleton.ca.

Jennifer M. Kilty is Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa. Her research examines gender and criminalization, the social construction of dangerous girls/women, the psy-carceral complex, self-harm, and the criminalization of HIV nondisclosure. She edited Within the Confines: Women and the Law in Canada (Women’s Press) and Demarginalizing Voices: Commitment, Emotion and Action in Qualitative Research (UBC Press), both published in 2014, and Containing Madness: Gender & Psy in Institutional Contexts (Palgrave) in 2018. Her book, The Enigma of a Violent Woman: A Critical Examination of the Case of Karla Homolka (Routledge) was published in 2016. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Jennifer.Kilty@uottawa.ca.


Thank you to Dr. Erin Dej and to Dr. Sheri Fabian who both provided thoughtful and helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We would also like to thank everyone who provided positive and enthusiastic feedback at the Critical Perspectives conference at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Finally, thank you to everyone who chooses to participate in qualitative research projects - we value your stories.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.





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