Rhetorical moves and identity performance in online child sexual abuse interactions

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Note: this electronic thesis contains volume 1 only; volume 2 (encrypted USB files) not available in Aston Publications Explorer.

    Online child sexual abuse (OCSA) is a pervasive problem facilitated by the anonymity afforded to offenders online. From a largely social constructionist perspective, this thesis explores linguistic expressions of identity by participants across a range of OCSA interactions, including offenders and suspected offenders, victims, and undercover police officers.

    The thesis is structured around three individual studies, each involving a different abusive interaction type. Each study employs Swales’ (1981; 1990) move analysis framework, exploring how participants use rhetorical moves as a resource for identity performance.

    Study 1 concerns a convicted offender who strategically cycled through numerous adopted personas when interacting with victims online. It considers his performance of various identity positions through his use of rhetorical moves across different personas. One persona is found to diverge significantly from the rest, and is identified as a possible reflection of the offender’s ‘home identity’. Study 2 considers interactions between suspected offenders and undercover police officers posing as offenders. It compares the participants’ move use and
    explores linguistic realisations of supportive exchanges, finding that aside a few notable differences, undercover officers perform the offender identity similarly to genuine suspected offenders. Study 3 explores dark web forum posts authored by ‘newbies’ attempting to join existing online communities of suspected offenders. It examines the identity positions performed in the posts and considers how positions of competence and expertise contribute to the persuasive process of seeking membership into online offending communities.

    Taking findings from these studies, the thesis discusses the possible contributions of move analysis to OCSA research and how rhetorical moves are used as a resource for identity performance, and offers an approach to identity analysis based on rhetorical moves. It concludes by arguing for move analysis as a useful goal-centred approach to identity investigation and describes potential implications of this work for law-enforcement, education and research.
    Date of AwardApr 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorTim Grant (Supervisor) & Carol N Marley (Supervisor)


    • online child sexual abuse
    • identity
    • move analysis
    • rhetorical move
    • strategies

    Cite this