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The field researcher

Crown Courts are open courts and as such accessible for all members of the public, including ethnographers from Germany . Soon after I found a suitable position in court to observe the scenery and to take notes, my micro-sociological perspective blurred. The local utterances – barristers’ questions, witnesses’ answers or closing speeches – seemed only to a degree “fresh talk” (Goffman): they were obviously based on case-preparation materialised in texts piled on the counsels’ desks.

The challenge started here: obtaining access was not just about finding people but to know ‘where the field is’. Gaining access turned into a journey, following the traces related to the case-representation on trial: the file’s content, the barrister’s brief and notes, the client’s instructions, the early versions of the stories told etc. The search-movements were facilitated by the alternation of fieldwork-phases and phases of analysis.

To put it more general: the field consists of several sites that overlap in the course of the unfolding legal discourse. It spreads in terms of time and space. Hence, gaining access turned into an ongoing challenge leading me to different contexts, confronting me with different participants and made me re-negotiate my role several times. Law firm, chambers and courts turned out to be the major junction for accessing the representational project, its division of labour and its designed surfacing in court.

At this point, I would like to thank especially two solicitors and two barristers that let me shadow them on a day-to-day basis over months. They introduced me like a pupil to the particulars of legal practice. Furthermore, they let me use files, briefs and notes. I could ask ‘stupid’ questions, sit in during conferences and interview them.

Useful literature: Ethnography and fieldwork

•  Appaduarai, Arjun (1986) The Social Life of Things. Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

•  Agar, Michael H. (1980) The Professional Stranger. An Informal Introduction to Ethnography. Orlando : Academic Press.

•  Atkinson, Paul; Coffey, Amanda; Delamont, Sara; Lofland, John; Lofland, Lyn (Eds.) Handbook of Ethnography . Los Angeles , London , Delhi , Singapore : Sage.

•  Becker, Howard (1998) Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about Your Research while You're Doing It. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

•  Berg, Eberhard; Fuchs, Martin (Hg.) (1993) Kultur, Soziale Praxis, Text. Die Krise der ethnographischen Repräsentation. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

•  Cicourel, Aaron V. (1970) Methode und Messung in der Soziologie. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

•  Denzin, Norman (1997) Interpretive Ethnography . Thousand Oaks , CA : Sage.

•  Garfinkel, Harold (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

•  Geertz, Clifford (1973) The Interpretation of Culture. New York : Basic Books.

•  Geertz, Clifford (1983) Dichte Beschreibung. Beiträge zum verstehen kultureller Systeme. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

•  Goffman, Erving (1964) The neglected situation. In: American Anthropologist 66, 133-136.

•  Goffman, Erving (1959) The Presentation of Everyday Life. New York : Doubleday Anchor Books.

•  Hirschauer, Stefan; Amann, Klaus (1998) Die Befremdung der eigenen Kultur. Zur ethnographischen Herausforderung soziologischer Empirie. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

•  Keane, Webb (1997) Signs of Recognition . Power and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society. Berkeley , Los Angeles , London : University of California Press.

•  Knorr, Karin (1984) Die Fabrikation von Erkenntnis. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

•  Maanen , John van (1988) Tales of the Field. Chicago University Press.

•  Malinowski, Bronislaw (1922/1979) Argonauten der Westlichen Pazifik. Frankfurt: Syndikat.

•  Malinowski, Bronislaw (1985) Ein Tagebuch im strikten Sinn des Wortes. Neuguinea 1914-18. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

•  Sanjek, Roger (ed.) Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology. Ithaca , NY : Cornell University Press.

•  Soeffner, Hans-Georg (1989) Auslegung des Alltags Alltag der Auslegung. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

•  Spradley, James P. (1979) The Ethnographic Interview. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

•  Spradley, James P. (1980) Participant Observation. London : Holz, Rinehart and Winston.

•  Smith, Dorothy, E. (2005) Institutional Ethnography. A Sociology for People. Lanham , New York , Toronto , Oxford : Altamira Press.

•  Sudnow, David (1978) Ways of the Hand. Cambridge , MA : Harvard University Press.

•  Warren, Carol, A. (1988) Gender Issues in Field Research. Newbury Park : Sage.

•  Whyte, William F. (1943/1981) Street Corner Society. Chicago : University Press.


New activities

Special Issue on "Law and Biography" in BIOS

Call for Abstracts/French-German Conference on “Enfermement/Freiheitsentzug

Latest Texts/Books

My ethnography on the English Crown Court procedure by BRILL

Our comparative ethnography of criminal defence work in different procedural regimes by PALGRAVE

Teaching in SS 2011

Scheffer: „Einführung in die Institutionelle Ethnographie“ Kurs in Moodle

Scheffer: „Was tun Verfahren? Eine sozialwissenschaftliche Debatte“ Kurs in Moodle

Scheffer: „Arbeitskreis politische Ethnographie“ Termine in Moodle

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