Tuesday, November 28, 2006

pubcrim and (in)expert knowledge

i presented some research today before the minnesota supreme court's statewide racial fairness committee, a distinguished group of supreme court justices and other justice professionals. they weren't wearing robes, of course, but it was still a bit intimidating, perhaps because my adolescent appearances before judges were not always so pleasant.

my schedule has been a bit hectic this week (or, more precisely, completely freakin' nuts), so i was racing from campus to capitol with little time to spare. i think the talk went well, although i had the horrifying realization at about the 25-minute mark that i was beginning to lecture the justices about the law (i tend to have all my horrifying realizations at the midway point of presentations -- being onstage sharpens the senses, i suppose). this would have been profoundly stupid and arrogant, in light of my very limited knowledge and experience with the law. i therefore beat a hasty retreat back to some solid social facts (e.g., race differences in punishment and disenfranchisement) and the conceptual tools of sociological theories (e.g., group threat) that help us make sense of them.

this seemed a good strategy, at least as measured by a dramatic increase in note-taking, questions, and eye contact during the talk. although i don't always make the best use of them, i'm once again convinced of the extraordinary utility of my discipline's methods and theories.

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