Making sense of violence: a study of narrative meaning

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Dramatized violence has been a feature of entertainment in western civilization throughout history. The function of film violence is explored and compared to violence encountered in real life. The role of narrative in individuals' meaning-making processes is also investigated. Six adults were individually interviewed using a semi-structured schedule and narrative analysis was implemented. The findings revealed that real life violence is experientially distinct from film violence but narrative was found to be central to participants' quest for the meaning of violence in both contexts. The narrative framework of violence and whether it is justifiable were fundamental to participants' understanding. The function of violent film was found to be multifaceted: it can teach viewers about the consequences of violence; it allows them to speculate about their own and others' reactions to violence; and it provides an opportunity to experience something which is ordinarily outside of our experience in order to satisfy our human existential needs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-151
Number of pages21
JournalQualitative Research in Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

This is an electronic version of an article published in Shaw, Rachel L. (2004). Making sense of violence: a study of narrative meaning. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 1 (2), pp. 131-151. Qualitative Research in Psychology is available online at:


  • film violence
  • meaning-making
  • narrative
  • phenomenology
  • real life violence


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