Italian Journal of Criminology

The official journal of the Italian Society of Criminology

by Cristiano Barbieri and Alfredo Verde

The present paper, which stems from an expert witness report in which the Authors have been implicated, tries to show the manifest utility of an hermeneutic approach in forensic psychiatry, especially in the field of family and canonical law. Hermeneutics, in the history of Western thought, has been largely spreading, and hermeneutic knowledge has so deepened that it can now be considerated not only as a simple technical tool aimed at the interpretation and comment of any given text, but also mainly as a general way of thinking about the value and the extension of the dynamics that allow to understand the meaning of any narrative. In fact, such approach has yielded a lot of positive and useful results, both in the field of psychiatric clinics, and in the forensic evaluative praxis, and has become the meeting point of psychodynamic and anthropo-phenomenological knowledge, given that both are increasingly intended as “hermeneutical disciplines”, aimed at the search and decodification of “meaning” in the context of interindividual relations. The discovery of the meaning,as result of the narration of an individual life-history (i.e. a story of particular events and motives, intended as “significant” in relation to other individuals), is the aim of both psycho-dynamics (where the relation concerns the individual and his mental objects) and anthropo-phenomenology (where the relation concerns the individual and his life project). In the expert witness field, given that comprehension of meaning must precede every kind of technical evaluation, the hermeneutical approach allows to appreciate not only the narratives produced by any single person, but also the reciprocal confrontation of the litigants and, moreover, the overall frame in which the expert’s evaluative activity situates itself. Such a frame, i.e. the judicial situation, is shaped by litigants, attorneys, experts, as well by the overall institutional judicial athmosphere with its written and unwritten rules. The evaluative context in which an hermeneutic approch may be useful is that of marital conflict, both in state family law and in canonical law. In such a context, interpersonal dynamics are marked not only by overt conflict, but also by a relevant divergence in the opposite versions about “what” happened in the couple relationship told by the conflicting ex-spouses, often to the point of irreducibility ad unum. It is in such particular situations that the reconstruction of each part’s personal experience, via exhaustive anamnesis and precise evaluation of the story told by each subject, becomes a unique narration framed by the expert narration which concerns both the past relationship of the couple (intended as the way in which they shaped and articulated their partnership) and the parenting project (seen as the construction of the bond with a third/other generating from the couple itself, but eventually expected to separate from it and to follow his/her own pathway toward autonomy and growth). In such a perspective, asking the parts to tell their life history supplies the material not only for the de-codification and the interpretation of the meaning attributed to the stories told by the parts (because it throws light on the subjectivity of the storyteller behind the simple exposition of facts), but also for showing that every singular contribution remands to a globality always more complex than the version told by each of the couple members. It turns out from above that an hermeneutic approach offers to the expert the realistic possibility both of restituting to the storyteller a global picture of the situation, which can be useful to him/her in order to progress in self-knowledge and possibly to begin a psychotherapy, and of answering to the questions formulated by the judge in a more precise, flexible and technically correct way.


Cattedra di Psicopatologia Forense dell'Università degli Studi di Pavia - Dipartimento di Medicina Legale e Sanità Pubblica “Antonio Fornari”, Via Forlanini, 12, 27100 - Pavia.
Cristiano Barbieri
Dipartimento di cultura giuridica “Giovanni Tarello”, Sezione di Filosofia e Sociologia del Diritto, Università degli Studi di Genova, Via Balbi, 30, 16126 - Genova.
Alfredo Verde
Contacts: Prof. Alfredo Verde - Dipartimento di cultura giuridica “Giovanni Tarello”, Sezione di Filosofia e Sociologia del Diritto, Università degli Studi di Genova, Via Balbi, 30, 16126 - Genova, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

From: Rassegna Italiana di Criminologia n. 2/2007



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