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On methods

Ethnography resembles a design-process, in which apt methods are engineered on the way. What are the right foci for an observation of legal discourse? What are instructive materials? After having started with the usual field notes, the pre-study in England developed some case-related packages of data. They included copies of certain file-documents, ethnographic interviews with the case-worker and reports on the arrayed encounters and their connections. I fabricated additional data sheets to trace the career of legal points (arguments, stories, themes etc.) on their way to court.

This first methodical design cannot, however, define fixed and detailed standards for the other case studies. It turned out that the natural data (protocols, files, transcripts etc.) produced in the various court-systems differ a lot in status, format and content. It turned out, moreover, that even notions such as pre-trial and trial or preparation and performance carry cultural implications. Similarly, legal documents and judicial staging are embedded in different "epistemic processes" (Knorr). They are different things obtaining certain functional positions within these processes. Any ethnographic comparison has to include the natural corpus of data itself in its comparative endeavour.

This is why each case study designed its very own data-packages to fit to the encountered status, format and content of the natural data. These specific packages represent the local courses of legal case work. In an experimental fashion, the group decided to include cross-cultural data as well: E.g. photographs of the court-rooms, recordings of the practitioners’ file-presentation and court-room reports from the local newspapers.

The main challenge of our trans-sequential analyses is a methodical one. The task to link the moment-by-moment nature of procedural events and the stage-by-stage nature of legal processes must resonate with an excellent corpus of data. In other words, the data need to be sufficiently detailed in order to response to the research interest on when and how exactly things took place and unfold.


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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