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Arson Reconceptualised: the Continuum of Fire Use

HORSLEY, FAYE,KATHRYN (2020) Arson Reconceptualised: the Continuum of Fire Use. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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In the last decade significant progress has been made in the psychological study of arson. However, there are substantive problems with the existing literature. In addressing these problems, three central arguments are made in this thesis. Firstly, whereas existing research has focussed solely on the act of ‘fire setting’, I propose that the term ‘fire use’ is more appropriate to account for the process we go through in our interactions with fire. Secondly, I propose that fire use is a fluid and heterogeneous concept and, thus, it should be represented by way of a continuum, which I term the continuum of fire use (CoFU). At one pole of the CoFU sits criminalised fire use, which includes the crime of arson. At the other end sits non-criminalised fire use ((i.e. behaviour which is considered to be ‘legal’). I argue that in order to reach a better understanding of arson and, ultimately, to reduce it, we must reconceptualise our approach to arson. This should include exploration of the experiences of those who use fire in a non-criminalised manner. In my third line of argument I endorse an interdisciplinary approach, which draws upon evolutionary, cultural and sociological perspectives, alongside psychology. I assert that we must appreciate the long and complex relationship humans have with fire, and this should include an understanding of the role it played in the evolution of our species. The arguments made in this thesis are done so with a view to improving on what we know about arson and, thus, informing treatment and intervention strategies to reduce it.
In this thesis I report on a qualitative study where I explore the psychological mechanisms involved in fire use. Twenty-four adults were interviewed about their fire-related experiences. Consistent with the continuum conceptualisation, each participant has a range of fire-related experiences, but 12 are predominantly non-criminalised users and 12 are predominantly criminalised (all serving prison sentences). Data was analysed using Grounded Theory and themes were identified for each of the two samples separately, before being combined. The result of combining the data was an overarching theory relating to the psychological impact of fire use, entitled the continuum of fire use theory (CoFUT). The CoFUT consists of three core themes, namely: (a) Transient Emotional State; (b) Self-Concept, and; (c) Psychological Wellbeing.
The CoFUT is the first theory to consider a spectrum of fire use, rather than solely focusing on arson (i.e. criminalised use). In proposing the CoFUT I am therefore challenging existing frameworks and calling for a re-conceptualisation of fire use. Practical application of the CoFUT is discussed in this thesis and I will argue for more emphasis on early intervention rather than offender rehabilitation in order to reduce the rate of arson in the UK. Future directions for research are proposed, including ideas for my own postdoctoral research. This will involve an exploration of the cultural aspects of fire use, still with an eye towards improving our understanding of arson and, ultimately, informing arson reduction strategy.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"Arson", "firesetting", "fire use", "criminal behaviour", "offender rehabilitation", "qualitative", "grounded theory", "interdisciplinary"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Sociology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 Apr 2020 12:38

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