Backstage at the barristers' case conference: A dramaturgical analysis

Helen Jones*, Fiona Brookman

*Corresponding author for this work

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Socio-legal ethnographies have focused largely on the dramaturgical themes present in the competing performances seen in adversarial trials. Drawing on ethnographic observations of British homicide investigations, we illuminate the hidden “backstage” space of prosecution barristers’ case conferences. Using Goffman’s dramaturgical framework, we analyze the interactions, deliberations, and negotiations that are enacted between barristers, homicide detectives, forensic scientists, and other specialists. To our knowledge, the work that happens in these conferences has never been documented. Our findings reveal how prosecution narratives evolve and are tested behind the scenes before being performed in court. We pay particular attention to the role of anticipatory work in guiding how criminal justice actors choreograph the prosecution case. The findings add to our understanding of narrative case building and elaborate Goffman’s dramaturgical framework. We discuss the implications of our findings for due process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-30
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2023


  • Goffman
  • dramaturgical analysis
  • barristers' case conferences
  • homicide investigation
  • due process


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