Street Codes as Formula Stories: How Inmates Recount Violence

Fiona Brookman, H Copes, A Hochstetler

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Recent developments in the study of narratives suggest that people can construct identity by referencing acculturated stories (i.e., formula stories) and often do so when explaining untoward behavior. Formula stories connect one’s personal identity with generally accepted subcultural identities and the narratives associated with them. In light of this, it becomes clear that cultural codes (e.g., the code of the streets) provide structured storylines. Using data from semistructured interviews with 118 violent inmates incarcerated in the United Kingdom, this study examines how they use the code of the street when describing specific violent events. The authors find that violent inmates portray themselves as respectable by situating their past violence within the prescripts of the code; however, the inmates’ narratives are not always consistent or drawn from singular formula stories. In fact, many participants offered various storylines and interpretations when describing violent events. We conclude that future theoretical development should aim to integrate perspectives focused on street codes, individual identity, and other acculturated factors and that understanding codes as narrative forms is essential.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)397 - 424
    Number of pages27
    JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2011


    • narrative identity
    • code of the street
    • formula stories
    • violence


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