Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Ann-Claire Larsen

Second Advisor

Natalie Gately

Field of Research Code

16, 1602, 160201

Abstract

The paradoxical character of fire is perfectly captured by the juxtaposition between the initial ease and excitement of lighting fires, and fire’s destructive and uncontrollable nature. Australia is fire prone with its hot, dry climate, volatile vegetation and urban sprawl surrounded by bushland. Since an estimated 50% of fires lit in Australia are deliberate (Stanley & Read, 2016) the problem of intentional firesetting cannot be overstated. This thesis argues that youth firesetting requires both macro- and microlevel approaches to appreciate the complexities of the problem, and aims to identify applicable and directed responses to minimise youth firesetting. Study one analysed data collected by the Western Australia Police to gain an understanding of characteristics associated with 20 medium to high-risk adult firesetters, such as proximal and developmental vulnerabilities. This study determined macro and microlevel theories are essential to explain firesetting. In study two, seven child and adolescent firesetters were interviewed to explore why they chose to light a fire. This qualitative research examined firesetting through the personal stories of young people who have set fires in Western Australia. Findings suggest that peer influence and impulsiveness outweigh a child’s capacity to anticipate the consequences of their firesetting. Supported also is the relevance of fire-specific and antisocial activity in the development of firesetting behaviour. Family function presented as both an influencing factor, and as a moderating factor for firesetting behaviour. This thesis found that social factors contribute a proximal and antecedent role in firesetting behaviour. Consequently, findings confirmed the need for the development of a micro-level theory to explain youth firesetting.

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