Untold Stories or Miraculous Mirrors? The Possibilities of a Text-Based Understanding of Socio-Legal Transcript Research

Research output: Working paper


Austin Sarat has described legal understandings of the transcript as “the verbatim record of a present soon to become past, a mirror/a record/a voice machine in which the “author” exercises no authorial presence.” In this paper I argue that when seeing a transcript as an authorless mirror of court proceedings, lawyers and socio-legal scholars risk overlooking the ways in which the technology of transcripts influences the record that is produced. Paying attention to the laws and practices governing transcript production allows those who engage in transcript research to appreciate how the transcript is defined in relation to the spoken proceedings it purports to represent even while the act of representation alters those proceedings. In this paper, I interrogate the terms on which legal transcripts act as memory’s handmaiden. While the work discussed in section two shows the power of transcript research to unearth hidden memories, I suggest that socio-legal scholarship has occasionally failed to pay regard to transcripts’ limitations. Overlooking these constraints can lead a researcher to falsely believe that she understands and is able to empathise with the person whose stories she recounts. The methodology I propose in section three for reading and writing about transcripts builds on the predominantly Foucauldian work of other socio-legal scholars in this area using insights from the work of Jacques Derrida and Dorothy E. Smith. In the second part of section three of this paper, I explain the process by which transcripts are produced and suggest some ways in which understanding the relation between the written transcript and the court proceeding allows one to read these transcripts more effectively. The paper concludes by repositioning the transcript as a socially-produced record of a process (a court proceeding) that is both quintessentially legal and saturated with the conditions of its production. Understanding transcripts in this way allows one to read transcripts critically, with an eye to what they contain and a concern to unearth what they might efface.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2013

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