I Feel Rejected: Alienation and Social Connection in the Personal Narratives of School Shooters
The media have long perpetuated the stereotype of school shooters as disaffected loners. This has become the default narrative following an attack, even in the absence of supporting evidence. Disaffection and isolation are manifestations of social alienation–a psychosocial phenomenon. The media discourse and academic literature both suggest that social alienation in the lives of these gunmen is worthy of further exploration.This paper asks: What types of social alienation do school shooters express in their own words? Do they also express social connection, and if so, how? And finally, are there specific examples of thematic patterns and vocabulary that are used when communicating social alienation? These questions are resolved through a three-part qualitative content analysis of the personal narratives of nineteen rampage school shooters.The first part of the analysis applies a model of alienation developed by social psychologist Melvin Seeman to the corpus. This model breaks alienation into six elements: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, self-estrangement, cultural estrangement, and social isolation. The corpus is also analyzed for references to social connection in the second part of the analysis. The third part of the study is an inductive analysis that resulted in the creation of a thematic framework that is grounded in the lexicon of school shooters. Ten categories were created to reflect how the shooters convey alienation.While every shooter in my analysis expressed alienation in some form, no two shooters expressed the same combination of elements. Fourteen of the nineteen sources studied included some form of social connection, too. The media rarely shows this side of the shooters, sacrificing nuance in favor of perpetuating the myth of the disaffected loner.
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