Doctoral Dissertation

8.3.2019 YTM, FM Ulla Salovaara (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Social work)


8.3.2019 12:00 — 15:00

Location: Seminaarinmaki , H320
YTM, FM Ulla Salovaara defends her doctoral dissertation in social work "Rikoksista tuomitut naiset - Yhteisöstä erottaminen ja takaisin liittämisen mahdollisuudet".

Opponent professor Sanna Hautala (University of Lapland) and Custos professor Marjo Kuronen (University of Jyväskylä, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy).

The doctoral dissertation is held in Finnish.


This qualitative dissertation on social work studies how women with a criminal background narrate their life course and how the stages of the ritual process (separation, liminality, incorporation) introduced by Van Gennep meet in their narratives.

The data were gathered through interviews with 18 women who were either in prison or performing community service or had recently been released from prison. The data were analysed with the narrative approach and using the Actantial model developed by A. J. Greimas. The narratives were categorised as thematical frames including substance use, violence, motherhood and the situation of women.

The substance use differentiated according to the age of starting and the stage of living. When the substance use was frequent and daily, also the negative circumstances increased. The addiction and the harming relationships bounded the women tightly to the webs of addiction. Women’s experiences of violence were divided into narratives of being a victim of intimate partner violence, narratives of women using violence, narratives of institutional violence and diversion and narratives of the silence. Only the institutional violence was present at the time of the interviews. The other forms of violence were narrated as part of their past.

Motherhood was important to the women. When bonds with children had earlier been cut due to substance use, the children were the source of the motivation for change. Women wanted to make things right because of the children. The situation of the women was contradictory especially in the cultures of substance use. The dichotomic situation between the “good guy” and the “dope whore” also results in the women feeling shame and guilt. These feelings could bundle the women to the webs of substance use and complicate the success of the incorporation.

The narratives of the women with a criminal background were divided into the time before sentencing, the time of incarceration and the time after release. This structure responded to the theory of the rite of passage by Arnold van Gennep. This theory was used not only as a tool to classify and frame the narratives but in this research this anthropological theory was also tested and developed to suit the social sciences. The theory clarified the structure of the process and the narratives of belonging and not belonging.

The time before sentencing was related to separation from society because of the substance use, violence and the many mechanisms of marginalisation. The liminality was located with the incarceration. When narrating liminality during their incarceration the women connected it with the feelings that made them put a halt to their previous way of living, the increase in self-knowledge and the possibility to make a change in their life. In the liminality there were also power relations maintaining the women’s separation from society.

The time after release was situated in incorporation. This phase was not an obvious result. The incorporation required women’s own activity and motivation as well as the institutional support. As a result, incorporation was possible through achieving the normative citizenship and a meaningful life. Based on the results of this study, the supporting needs of the women with a criminal background and the complexity of the incorporation, some recommendations have been made in the last chapter. These recommendations are to support the incorporation both while women are incarcerated and after their release.

Incorporating back into society is complex, and these women need support. Based on the results of this study, it is important to start the support already during the incarceration of those women with substance abuse and mental health problems. Women also need support in motherhood. These means of support should also continue after release, and there is also a need for social workers specialised in the problems of ex-prisoners and support for housing.

More information

Ulla Salovaara

Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy