1st Edition

Professional Emotions in Court A Sociological Perspective

By Stina Bergman Blix, Åsa Wettergren Copyright 2018
    208 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    208 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Professional Emotions in Court examines the paramount role of emotions in the legal professions and in the functioning of the democratic judicial system. Based on extensive interview and observation data in Sweden, the authors highlight the silenced background emotions and the tacitly habituated emotion management in the daily work at courts and prosecution offices. Following participants ‘backstage’ – whether at the office or at lunch – in order to observe preparations for and reflections on the performance in court itself, this book sheds light on the emotionality of courtroom interactions, such as professional collaboration, negotiations, and challenges, with the analysis of micro-interactions being situated in the broader structural regime of the legal system – the emotive-cognitive judicial frame – throughout.

    A demonstration of the false dichotomy between emotion and reason that lies behind the assumption of a judicial system that operates rationally and without emotion, Professional Emotions in Court reveals how this assumption shapes professionals’ perceptions and performance of their work, but hampers emotional reflexivity, and questions whether the judicial system might gain in legitimacy if the role of emotional processes were recognized and reflected upon.

    List of Tables and Figures


    1. Why emotions in court?

    Emotion and rationality

    Emotion and law: the research field

    Emotion, law and morality

    Morality and objectivity

    Empathy and emotion management

    Power emotions

    The Swedish judicial system

    Education and the legal professions

    Prosecutor and prosecution

    Judge and the court

    Defence and victim counsels

    The trial

    Theoretical framework and key concept

    Emotion, emotion management, habituation

    Social interaction, frame, and ritual

    Power and status

    Our findings in an international perspective

    Structure of the book

    2. Background emotions in legal professional life

    The emotional profile of defence lawyers

    The judge

    A formative shame/pride moment

    Pride in status and comfort with power


    General intellectual dealers

    Procedural justice: an increased service orientation

    The prosecutor

    An issue of personality?

    Mediators, translators, purifiers

    Committed to justice

    Independence and collegiality


    3. Organisational Emotion Management

    Time as organizing principle

    Judges: Lamenting the loss of time

    Prosecutors: Constant lack of time

    Fear and organisational security work

    Court fears

    Prosecution fears

    Teflon culture: Emotion management as self-discipline

    Teflon culture in courts

    Teflon culture at the prosecution office

    Individualised and collegial emotion management


    4. The dramaturgy of court emotions

    Setting the scene for the non-emotional ritual

    Script and legal terminology

    Front-stage performance and emotional communication

    Frontstage collaboration to control emotion

    The prosecutor’s perspective: Enacting backstage/front-stage

    Situated adaptation to ordinary surprises

    Adjusting to the judge: Situated adaptation and emotional toning

    Tacit signals

    The judge’s perspective: Backstage preparation and front-stage presentation

    Focus and strategic emotion management

    Front-stage strategic empathy

    Dramaturgical stress

    Emotional toning: Toning down and toning up emotional expressions


    5. Power and status in court

    The autonomous judge: Power issues

    Power discomfort

    Personalizing or depersonalizing power?

    Limitations of power and low status: Negotiating demeanour

    Power and status in deliberations

    The independent prosecutor: Status negotiations

    Prosecutors and the police

    Prosecutors and the judge

    Prosecutors and lay people

    More distance – less personalized

    Judge and prosecutor: Power and status challenges


    6. Objectivity work as situated emotion management

    Objectivity and impartiality

    Judges: Justice must be seen to be done

    Balancing emotional expressions

    Aesthetic pleasure, satisfaction, and confidence in legal evaluation

    Prosecutors: Partial objectivity

    Balancing emotions of commitment and detachment

    Aesthetic pleasure, satisfaction, and interest in legal encoding

    Objectivity work as collective achievement


    7. Concluding discussion


    The emotive-cognitive judicial frame and the self

    Refuges of the emotive-cognitive judicial frame

    Emotional profiles

    Background emotions in the legal system – some further reflections




    Stina Bergman Blix is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Uppsala University, Sweden.

    Åsa Wettergren is a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Work Science at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

    "Cogent arguments supported with fascinating data make Professional Emotions in Court a tour de force. Bergman Blix and Wettergren reveal not only that court processes are infused with emotions but show also how the actors involved – judges, prosecutors and lawyers – believe that their practices are impersonal if not rational. This is sociology at its best, changing the way we conceive institutions, knowledge and routine rituals." - Jack Barbalet, Australian Catholic University, Australia, and Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong.

    "Professional Emotions in Court offers a lucid and important reconceptualization of the legal notion of objectivity. The authors place their extensive interview and observational data in a legal and sociological framework, illustrating the ways in which implicit rules and assumptions about emotion shape the behavior and the decisions of prosecutors and judges. This is a rigorous look at a fascinating subject, with implications for both common law and civil legal systems." - Susan A. Bandes, DePaul University College of Law, USA.

    "[…] the book offers a substantial contribution to a growing field of studies concerning emotion and the law. With its rich data and the authors’ sociological eye for detail, the study reveals the importance of judges’ and prosecutors’ emotion management practices and will be a must-read for years to come." - Malin Åkerström, Symbolic Interaction.

    "While the Swedish judge with their stone face may seem a million miles away from the American judge who sheds tears in court then hugs a defendant, much can be learned about emotions across a range of justice contexts by adopting the approach taken by Bergman Blix and Wettergren. Their analysis reveals the inner workings of background emotions for Swedish legal professionals. However, it raises somewhat more universal questions about the tensions between lay and professional emotions and frames, the relationship between background and foreground emotions, and the limits of the emotive-cognitive judicial frame. This book can and should generate a broader discussion about emotions in legal settings." - Meredith Rossner, Journal of Law and Society.