Legal Consciousness in Action: Lay People and Accountability in the Jury Room

  • Matthew P. FoxEmail author


This paper argues that lay people’s legal consciousness, defined as how they experience and interpret the law and legal meanings, can be studied by observing natural conversation. It proposes a framework that analyzes the contexts when law is invoked to account for social behavior, which enables examination of individuals’ perceptions of law through their utilization of and reactions to it. This framework is applied to recordings of a jury deliberation, an ideal setting due to its institutionally-controlled conditions. The analysis demonstrates that jurors wield law as a conversational resource to create distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate conduct based upon their endogenous understandings of these boundaries. The invocation of law is an important element of the deliberation because it permits jurors to enforce these distinctions and understand their completed duties as aligning with the legal system’s ideals. This paper also discusses the ability of this framework to study the law’s influence in other social institutions, as well as those institutions’ own “consciousness.”


Accounts Conversational resource Decision-making Jury deliberation Legal consciousness Legal invocation 



I am particularly indebted to Steven Clayman for insights provided through his close reading of several earlier drafts of this paper. Additionally, I would like to thank Christopher Erickson, Yu-Hui Lee Fox, David Gibson, John Heritage, Jack Katz, Máximo Langer, Gabriel Rossman, Lynne Zucker, the five anonymous Qualitative Sociology reviewers along with Editor-in-Chief David Smilde for their helpful comments.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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