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Gaining access
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Accessing Crown Court hearings

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-movement was facilitated by the alternation of phases of fieldwork and phases of analysis.

To put it in more general terms: 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 in particular two solicitors and two barristers that allowed me to shadow them on a day-to-day basis over months. Like a pupil they introduced me 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.


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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