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By Terrorists' Own Telling: Using Autobiography for Narrative Criminological Research

The Emerald Handbook of Narrative Criminology

ISBN: 978-1-78769-006-6, eISBN: 978-1-78769-005-9

Publication date: 7 October 2019


As more and more people decide to commit their lives to print, autobiographies constitute a significant resource to explore stories of harm, violence and crime. Published autobiography, however, presents a unique form of storytelling, unavoidably entailing the accumulation and (re)telling of a mass of stories; about oneself, others, contexts and cultures. Relatedly, paratexts – or the elements that surround the central text, such as covers, introductions and prologues – demonstrate how these texts are both individually and collectively shaped. Taking the co-constructed nature of all narratives, including self-narratives, as its starting point, this chapter seeks to demonstrate how terrorists who have authored autobiographies understand the world and their actions within it. In doing so, this chapter provides a practical demonstration of how insight derived from literary criticism can profitably be brought to bear in systematically breaking down and analysing an autobiography – that of a notable American jihadist, Omar Hammami – including its paratextual elements. In particular, I argue that considerations of genre, the inclusion of different types of events and stories collected from others all provide valuable strategies for the ‘doing’ of narrative criminology using autobiographies.




This work was partly funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (ESRC Award: ES/N009614/1).


(2019), "By Terrorists' Own Telling: Using Autobiography for Narrative Criminological Research", Copeland, S., Fleetwood, J., Presser, L., Sandberg, S. and Ugelvik, T. (Ed.) The Emerald Handbook of Narrative Criminology, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 131-151.



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Copyright © 2019 Simon Copeland