Zeitschrift für Rechtssoziologie
The German Journal of Law and Society
Ed. by Bora, Alfons / Boulanger, Christian / Cottier, Michelle / Fuchs, Walter / Guibentif, Pierre / Karavas, Vagias / Kretschmann, Andrea / Machura, Stefan / Schweitzer, Doris
Before the Law or Three Narratives about Gaining Access to Criminal Defence
In this article a micro-sociological research group originally assembled to study criminal defense casework investigates the issue of ethnographic access. The three authors represent three different countries (Germany, the USA, and the UK) with their respective legal contexts. They approach these contexts with Clifford Geertz. Specifically, the authors utilize Geertz’s notion of polarization as an ethnographic resource and a unit of comparison. The authors examine polarization in the narrative mode, comparing different experiences of accessing law firms. The narratives address relevant conceptual and pragmatic issues. For the main findings the authors suggest that accessing ethnographic fields indeed depend on the setting, personality, and the sought-out data; however, one additional factor seems to be universally applicable for all the contexts: access to law is an on-going phenomenon which is predicated on the insider/outsider separation. The notion of hospitality allows the researcher to mitigate that separation (polarization) in the ways intrinsic to the investigated context.