Performing culture in youth courts: An active ethnography of narrative negotiations

01 October 2018 → Ongoing
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Courts and sentencing
    • Punishment and criminal justice
    • Youth and life course criminology
youth courts
Project description

The project explores the ways in which the notion ‘culture’ is mobilised in youth courts. This
institutional context is underpinned by "it's for your own good" ideals, entailing a constant
balancing between protecting and punishing young people. Professionals also need to take into
account youth's overall background. Previous research has shown that 'mundane' understandings
of ‘culture' influence these assessments and at times negatively impact decision making.
Based on the insights of legal anthropologists (who study the role of culture in court but often limit
themselves to culture in legal arguments), this research makes a link to (narrative) criminology to
understand the role of culture in the social practice of courts. ‘Culture and crime’ as well as
‘culture and decision making’ narratives produced in formal and 'backstage' interactions in courts
will be studied. The project discusses what culture means and how narratives of culture function
to legitimise (possibly harmful) interventions. Theoretically, it further develops the notion 'penal
Observations in two youth courts (one in Belgium and one in the Netherlands) will be conducted.
Gradually, the research shifts to a more active mode, stimulating a discussion about 'culture' (in
interviews and in roundtables involving cultural experts). This way the study contributes to a
transformation of static culture notions. Moreover, it analyses the power dynamics of these group
negotiations of the meaning of ‘culture’.