n Gender and Behaviour - What's her story : understanding the life story of a female offender within the South African context

Volume 11, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1596-9231



Mainstream criminological, feminist, sociologists and historians emphasise the role, typology and provide accounts of the reasons for female involvement in crime. This concern is taking place within a broader context of increasing numbers of women who end up confined to institutions of incarceration. While existing research on women in South African correctional centres has enabled researchers to map-out the routes to criminality among women, more often the empirical approaches adopted lead to generalisations that do not reveal the complex contexts and lived existential circumstances of the women who find themselves in institutions of incarceration. This paper seeks to do two things. First, it provides a critique of the empiricist nature of studies conducted on women in prison. Second, it deploys a life histories approach to understand female criminality in South Africa. The research is based on empirical data gathered from three correctional centres in Johannesburg, Thohoyandou and East London Correctional Centres. The author posits that a life histories approach has two advantages. First, life histories approach avoids the danger of generalisations that ignores contextual issues. Second, life histories approach assumes a bottom up format that empathises with the narratives of the incarcerated women.

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