The Language of Law School: Learning to "Think like a Lawyer"

By Elizabeth Mertz | Go to book overview

3
Study Design, Methodology, and Profile

This opening section outlines the particular synthesis of methodological approaches used in this study. In addition, it describes the site selection process and the trajectory of the research as it developed. Finally, it outlines some of the complexities involved in coding turn-taking in law school classes.


Design and Methodology

Combining Methods

What method is adequate to the task of uncovering both similarities and differences across different law schools and classrooms? Being an anthropologist, I begin with a preference for actually observing what people are doing, rather than relying solely on their reports of what they do. Anthropologists pioneered the use of participant observation, a method that relies on researchers to immerse themselves as much as possible in the setting they wish to understand. The kind of study that is produced by this intensive and systematic observation over an extended period of time is called an ethnography, also developed primarily out of the discipline of anthropology, which has used this approach to study and understand cultures.1 Anthropologists and linguists studying classroom settings have adopted the ethnographic method, providing rich accounts of the dynamics in classrooms— dynamics that form students' experiences.2

In addition to observing and interacting in the settings they study, anthropological linguists concerned with the details of language-in-use frequently tape interactions and then transcribe them to provide a basis for more exacting linguistic analysis. This method permits careful scrutiny of the ways that minute aspects of

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