Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology & Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Randolph Myers

Committee Member

Mona J. E. Danner

Committee Member

Tim Goddard


Highlighting the culturally contingent nature of state reactions to crime, the present work focuses on state talk issued by the U.S. and Norwegian governments in the aftermath of politically motivated mass shootings. The research is guided by the question: how does state talk—conditioned by economic, political, and cultural forces—facilitate or constrain punitive responses to political mass shootings? Here, the focus is on the January 8th 2011 shooting of U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents and the July 22nd 2011 bombing of a government building and shooting of a youth political camp in Norway. These two cases illustrate how state talk can either help to escalate or moderate responses to horrific events. Situating state discourse in the context of American exceptionalism in the case of the United States and Scandinavian Exceptionalism in the case of Norway, the present study argues that state talk reflects and reinforces both the United States notably precarious and competitive social order and Norway’s comparatively less volatile and more cooperative social order. Analysis of both more and less incendiary government talk and the cultural factors that uphold the tone and content of such state talk is needed to better understand the role of government rhetoric in shaping responses to tragedy. The present work, relying on qualitative content analysis, examines government press releases, speech transcripts, and op-eds posted to government websites. Here, themes thought to constrain or facilitate punitive responses, derived from criminological literature, were applied to the state talk data. This approach reveals the divergent ways in which states talk about tragedy across cultures. I then link divergent state talk findings to politics and social life after January 8th and July 22nd to paint a picture of the dissimilar effects of state talk. In conclusion, I discuss policy considerations in light of these findings and future avenues of research.


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