Justice Seen by Citizens: Controversial Reasoning over Functions and Functioning

Bartolomeo Cappellina 1 Cécile Vigour 2 Pierre Vendassi 3
3 UMR5116
IEP Bordeaux - Sciences Po Bordeaux - Institut d'études politiques de Bordeaux, CED - Centre Émile Durkheim
Abstract : Based on a focus groups survey with citizens, this paper discusses the benefits and the limits of this method of inquiry for law and justice research. Between November 2015 and January 2016, the Manajustice project research team led 13 focus groups with French citizens (3 hours, 4-6 participants each) to explore the variability in representations of justice according to social origins, justice experiences and type of jurisdictions. The study shows that representations vary as a consequence of different factors such as personal experiences (legal or not), level of qualification and reflexivity, the profession, the social background, and the way the judicial system is presented in the media. Interestingly, a certain adjustment of the representations has been observed as a result of the debate between groups’ participants as well. While the literature in law, sociology and political science wonders whether justice should be conceived as an institution or as a social activity, both representations are stressed upon by the participants. First, justice is represented as a “world apart” that theatrically performs power (language, rituals, symbols, architecture; Mulcahy, 2011; Resnik & Curtis, 2011; Garapon, 2001) while keeping everybody at a distance and producing sacralisation (Girard, 1971) in plain contrast with the ideal of an inclusive “justice for all”. Hearings are seen as a “degradation ceremony” (Garfinkel, 1956), less frequently of rehabilitation for the individuals and society. Second, citizens focus on the simultaneous processes of objectivity and subjectivity at the very heart of the judicial activity. While professional value facts and evidence, complainants, victims and defendants ask for listening, care and cure beyond any potential repair. They also question the achievability of a really impartial and equal justice. Thirdly, these representations reflect contrasting relationships to law and justice around the triptych defined by Ewick and Silbey (1998): before, with, and against the law. While presenting more precisely these results, the paper introduces as well the theoretical foundations for the use of focus groups in this field of research (for other fields, see Barbour 2007; Duchesne & Haegel 2005). As part of a mixed-method design involving a survey and individual interviews with the same population (that will not be object of the present paper, we mobilize focus groups as an exploratory tool for further international comparative studies. The research design, sampling and practicalities of planning and running focus groups with citizens having different degrees of experience of justice and of the justice system are presented in the paper in order to show both the potential and the limits of the method for generating data on law and justice. The discussion of the results is the occasion for a reflection on the challenges of producing focus groups data and on the backlash that the research design and the practicalities of the research may impose on the analytical side.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 2:07:47 PM
Last modification on : Monday, January 13, 2020 - 11:20:11 AM

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Bartolomeo Cappellina, Cécile Vigour, Pierre Vendassi. Justice Seen by Citizens: Controversial Reasoning over Functions and Functioning. ECPR General Conference, P079 - Data and Methods in Court Research, ECPR, Sep 2016, Prague, Czech Republic. ⟨halshs-01379348⟩

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