The law-in-action group studied courts and law firms, judges, lawyers, and their clients and later political inquiries and their publics by means of ethnography and discourse analysis. Currently, the approaches developed here - trans-sequential analysis, ethnographic discourse analysis and thick comparison - is applied to another field of concern: the parliament.
The sociolegal project: Comparative Micro-Sociology of Criminal
Why sociology of law? So far, scholars focussed on law as means
of regulation, on legal processes of decision making, and the powerful
legal institutions and professions as crucial facets of a modern division
of labour. In our project we asked, how legal discourse practices provide
us with certain knowledge about cases of what really happened, about
(im)moral subjects, about responsibilites and guilt. How law knows became
our main concern.
We set off with criminal trial hearings in various countries. Sociologists
and criminologists consider trials as crucial elements of justice systems.
At stake is the public legitimisation of punishment, the restoration
of the moral economy, and the monopolisation of state power. Legitimisation
through procedure, it is said, requires grounded, unbiased and efficient
trials. But where do the cases come from in the first place? What is
decided about must have been put together somewhere and somehow. Cases
are practical accomplishments
How, we ask accordingly, are these accomplishments achieved
and integrated in spatiotemporal expanded work-processes? For instance, how are criminal defences
set in motion? How are legal statements put together? How are they rendered available for all practical purposes? And how does
the production of cases
vary in procedural systems? We are, to put short, after the practical grounds and the systematic effects of criminal proceedings: the trans-sequential activities - within events and in between events - by which legal facts and legal positions are brought into existance.
But is this at all relevant for legal scholars
and practitioners? Does this matter at all? We expect the results
to teach a good deal on the socio-material constitution of legal work,
on the spatiotemporal divisions of labour, and on the
variety of contingent solutions for analogous problems. Our comparative ethnography
puts an emphasis on the timing and the temporalities of legal discourse: the pasts and futures of current dealings.
Currently, we extend the work on "doing procedure" towards "political inquiries", e.g. the Hutton Inquiry in England or the CIA-inquiry by the EU-parliament. By this move we aim for a sociological understanding of procedures as more or less self-referential, self-dynamic systems. Our research suggests that there are soft and strong procedures in this regard and that an understanding of talk in court or debates in parliament requires a conception of the most relevant frame: the procedure that allows this event to happen and to matter, both in terms of knowledge and in terms of power.