Rethinking agency, strengths and change in desistance and recovery: an actor network approach

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Research


Individual agency and strengths are generally seen as important in desistance and recovery. However, the over-emphasis on individual strengths can relegate a complex array of structural and biopsychosocial factors to the background. It can also make people feel like they have “failed” if they do not desist or recover. In this chapter, we address this bind by turning to actor-network theory, which opens up new possibilities for thinking about agency, strengths, and change in desistance and recovery. It provides a different focal point of analysis and intervention – the actor network – which may include both human and non-human actors, such as materials, norms, places, and discourses. We perform an analysis inspired by actor-network theory of two accounts of people with histories of crime and substance use “problems” to highlight the way in which desistance and recovery are entangled in various networks, tendencies, and trajectories. We then conclude by reflecting on what an analysis inspired by actor-network theory might offer in terms of understanding desistance and recovery and the implications for strengths-based practice. In particular, we suggest that researchers and professionals need to identify possibilities for desistance and recovery afforded by networks of both human and non-human actors.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStrengths-Based Approaches to Crime and Substance Use
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Drugs and Crime to Desistance and Recovery
EditorsDavid Best, Charlotte Colman
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781315227221
ISBN (Print)9781138288737, 9781138288744
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

Cite this