Project: On Narratives in Criminal Trials

The aim of this project is to study narratives in authentic criminal trials and also in fictional contexts where trials are described.

Project information

Project members: Gunilla Byrman, Joacim Lindh, Corina Lowe and Beate Schirrmacher

More about the project

We want to observe how people interact and use media and modalities when presenting narratives during a trial. In a criminal case the judge and the lay judges have to pass judgement on a criminal event that can only be reproduced as narratives. During a trial the parties' voices are heard, and the procedure of a trial is highly ritualized according to a set order of items to be addressed. In the transmediation of narratives, there may be speech, body language, streaming through links, texts, pictures, sound recordings and films. We want to describe and explain the multimodal context of narratives in the legal process, and what happens during the interaction, but we also want to analyse how trials are transmediated in more or less fictional genres and discuss them in relation to authentic trials.

Questions asked

  • What narratives are transmediated in criminal proceedings, and with what media
  • What does the transmediation process look like during a trial, and what opportunities and limitations are there in the transmediation that takes place in the studied context?
  • How are the narratives' truth claims handled in authentic legal proceedings, i.e. the credibility of the narratives and reliability of the evidence?
  • How do the transmediations in an authentic legal trial and the multimodal environment of the courtroom compare to mediations of trials in newspapers, novels and films?

We not only study transmediations of events and their multimodal interaction, but also try to find reasons why mediations look the way they do. A trial also has an aesthetic dimension and can be compared to a drama where there is an interaction between an aestheticized portrayal and the actual construction. Studies from the humanities, psychology and law can illuminate each other here.

We want to develop methods to analyse the multimodality of trials and transmediations in lawsuits. The material consists of written investigations of criminal cases, notes from field studies during trials of criminal cases, recordings of narratives about the crime told by the parties in the case, witnesses and legal personnel, photos as evidence and the written judgement. Material is also sampled from journalistic coverage of trials, documentaries and cinematic or literary portrayals of trials.