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Rules versus Relationships

The Ethnography of Legal Discourse

In Rules versus Relationships, John M. Conley and William M. O’Barr examine the experiences of litigants seeking redress of everyday difficulties through the small claims courts of the American legal system. The authors find two major and contrasting ways in which litigants formulate and express their problems in terms of specific rule violations and seek concrete legal remedies that would mend soured relationships and respond to their personal and social needs.

236 pages | 6.00 x 8.90 | © 1990

Chicago Series in Law and Society

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Language and Linguistics: Language and Law

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Rhetoric and Communication

Table of Contents

1. Discourses and Voices in the Law
The Analysis of Discourse
The Discourse of Legal Anthropology
The Discourse of the Law
The Study of Ordinary Discourse in Legal Contexts
2. The Courts of First Resort
In Search of Informal Justice
Informal Justice: History and Theory
The Selection of Research Sites
The Unit of Analysis
Data Collection
3. Learning to Listen
The Ethnography of Discourse
Legal Accounts without Evidentiary Constraints
Informal Court Accounts and Lay Jurisprudence
The Role of Judges in Shaping Accounts
Some Ethnographic Conclusions about Accounts in Informal Courts
4. Rules versus Relationships
Litigant Orientations
The Relational Litigant
The Rule-Oriented Litigant
Rules versus Relationships
Conflicting Modes of Presenting Information: A Case Study
The Social Distribution of Rule and Relational Orientations
5. The Jurisprudence of Informal Court Judges
Some Observations about the Linguistic Structure of Judgments
The Jurisprudence of Judges: Some Differences in Approach to the Law
The Strict Adherent to the Law
The Law Maker
The Mediator
The Authoritative Decision Maker The Proceduralist
The Jurisprudence of Judges: Rules and Relationships?
Accounting for the Variation in Judicial Approaches to Decision Making
Conclusion: The Next Question?
6. Concordant Orientations
Easy Cases: Rule-Oriented Litigants and Judges
More Elaborated Cases: Relational Litigants and Judges
The Context of Concord
An Unsystematic System
7. The Problem of Discord: What Do Litigants Want?
Procedural Goals: Law as Therapy
Substantive Goals: Finding the Hidden Agenda
Misunderstanding the Power of the Court
How Does the System Maintain Itself?
8. Managing Discord
Coping With the System: The Leaky Roof
Manipulating Symbols: The Super Fixer-Upper
The Nature of Ideological Dissonance
The Social Coordinates of Ideological Dissonance
9. Conclusion
The Voice of Legal Anthropology
Missing Voices in the Law
Discovering Voices
How Litigants Talk
What Litigants Say
The Interaction of Voices
Implications for the Law
Postscript: Questions for Future Research
Appendix I: A Note on Quantification
Appendix II: Case Summaries

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