(In)visibility and missing persons
: Desperately seeking certainty

  • Graham Apps

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Social Work


    This thesis is an exploration of (in)visibility and missing persons, specifically the impact of the police response to reports of missing persons and subsequent investigations into the disappearance of people. The literature review builds on a review of harm and missing persons in which invisibility was foregrounded and provides the context for (in)visibility in the thesis. (In)visibility is selected to represent a spectrum of visibility through to invisibility and indicate something of the dynamic nature of the concept of visibility – invisibility, as a dualism rather than as a binary. A qualitative methodology is used in the belief that quantitative research (particularly in the field of missing persons) on its own has the tendency to neglect the essence of life. The study is underpinned by a broadly constructivist ontology linked to an interpretivist epistemology. Using a grounded theory approach, a series of semi-structured interviews provided the data for analysis and a thematic network analysis is used to decode the evidence and to recode it into a series of conceptual and theoretical themes. Wrapped around the analysis and discussion of the data is a narrative based on an expert knowledge of the field.

    The thesis contributes to the evidence base by providing knowledge in relation to policing processes which create(in)visibility in missing. It identifies and explains (in)visibility and missing persons and challenges a paradoxical nature of the police response to missing persons. Brought to attention is the markedness of absence; absence, like missing, is not a ‘thing-in-itself’, it is always in relation to others and a symptom of wider causal factors. The thesis answers the need to make visible missing people’s absence and to examine what happens when they are gone.

    The thesis is positioned as an interdisciplinary contribution in the field of policing studies with overlaps into social geography, sociology, psychology and other disciplines. Drawing on a range of views and argument, the research blends philosophical sensibility and a pragmatic eye revealing what might work in the policing response to missing; in doing so, the politics of missing are enhanced.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorNicholas Fyfe (Supervisor), Ann Hodson (Supervisor) & Hester Parr (Supervisor)


    • Missing
    • missing person
    • visibility
    • invisibility
    • qualitative methodology
    • grounded theory
    • thematic network analysis
    • oppositions
    • markedness
    • certainty
    • policing
    • policing processes
    • police culture
    • police language
    • procedural justice
    • identity
    • personhood
    • agency

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