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University of Gothenburg

The construction of objectivity - emotions in judicial decision-making

Abidance by the law requires trust in the judicial system to uphold rational and objective justice. But the legal positivist notion of objectivity as abstract is problematic, relying on a modernistic separation of emotion/reason into opposites. In contrast, research has shown that reason depends on emotions and that ’feeling’ the consequences of alternative action is fundamental to form rational decisions.

For legal actors this means that objective decision-making relies on emotional information and that sensibilities influence allocation of culpability. The aim is to study the emotive-cognitive concrete process of judicial decision-making in prosecution offices and courts, by following legal cases from prosecution, district court, to the court of appeal. We study:

  • Emotive-cognitive construction of objective decision-making
  • Dimensions of encoding subjective lay narratives in a legal case into objective judicial categories
  • Emotive-cognitive components of changed decisions

Using qualitative methods we combine interviews and shadowing with concerned prosecutors and judges and observations of the trials.The project addresses problems with the positivist notion of objectivity which does not allow legal actors to reflect upon how they do use emotions at work, thereby obscuring when personal sensibilities interfere with professional decisions. Besides the potential for developing legal education this knowledge advances theory about emotions, rationality and objectivity.



Stina Bergman Blix, project leader, Uppsala University'

Moa Bladini, Department of Law, University of Gothenburg

Nina Törnqvist, Uppsala University

Åsa Wettergren, Department of Sociology and Work Science, University of Gothenburg