Seminar: Emotions in Legal Decisions: The Construction of Objective Narratives in Italian Criminal Trials

Society and economy

During this seminar, Alessandra Minissale will present and discuss her paper "Emotions in Legal Decisions: The Construction of Objective Narratives in Italian Criminal Trials"

22 Sep 2023
13:15 - 15:00
Room F417, Skanstorget 18, Gothenburg and online

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About the seminar: 

Abstract: Drawing on ethnographic data collected in Italian courts and prosecution offices, my research offers new perspectives on legal decision-making by highlighting the importance of emotions for constructing and evaluating legal narratives. Focusing on criminal cases, I describe how judges and prosecutors use emotions in reflection and action tied to lay narratives and legal constraints. My analysis shows that legal professionals engage in different types of emotional dynamics when dealing with stories; first, they develop gut feelings, which are either endorsed or kept at distance by means of emotional reflexivity, to comply with legal ideals of objectivity and impartiality. Second, empathy emerges as a crucial tool to direct the interaction with lay people and to interpret legal prerequisites, such as credibility, and intent. Finally, I show that lay stories lead legal professionals to become passionate and committed towards the correct application of the law, the restoration of the moral order, and the achievement of justice. In light of the empirical findings, my research strives to develop a theoretical understanding of legal decision making as narrative work that includes emotional dynamics consistent with rational, objective action.

Researcher bio: Alessandra Minissale holds a Master of Law (cum laude) from the University of Bologna and in September 2023 she will defend her double PhD in Sociology at Uppsala University, and in Legal Studies at Bologna University. Her doctoral research is part of the ERC-international project Justemotions, which investigates the role of emotions in the construction of judicial and prosecutorial objectivity in different countries. Alessandra conducted extensive ethnographic data collection in Italian courts and prosecution offices, focusing on how emotions impact the construction and evaluation of narratives in criminal cases. Her article titled “Scrutinizing Gut Feelings: Emotional Reflexive Practices in Italian Courts” has received the Best Paper Award at the 2022 European Sociological Association Midterm Conference in Hamburg.