Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


3 December 2021

Asking about juror bias: The organization and sensitivities of voir dire questioning in the U.S.

Presented By Professor Steven Clayman for the CRCC Seminar Series

About this event

In the U.S. justice system, the selection of citizen jurors involves an examination process known as voir dire, where prospective jurors are questioned by judges and attorneys to ascertain their suitability for jury service and to probe for disqualifying forms of bias.  Despite the centrality of voir dire to jury selection, empirical research on the actual practice of examining jurors is sparse. The present study opens the “black box” of voir dire to empirical scrutiny.  We anatomize the overall activity structure of voir dire, and then zero in on the subset of questions targeting juror fairness/bias as a focus of inquiry.  We identify a variety of tendencies and preferences in question design, and track variations over the course of expanded question-response sequences.  We also suggest that these various patterns reflect efforts to balance two overarching social norms that are mutually in tension: (1) showing due diligence in the task of rooting out bias, while also (2) avoiding offense to prospective jurors.  Both of these norms, and the practices through which they are implemented, are sensitive to the social pressures surrounding the search for bias.

Steven Clayman's interests span the organization of spoken interaction and its interface with social institutions. Most of his research has focused on interactions involved in the practice of journalism and mass communication, most notably broadcast news interviews and presidential news conferences. He is interested in how these interactions are organized, and what their study can reveal about journalism, press-state relations, political communication systems, and the public sphere. Beyond the domain of broadcast journalism, he is interested in how interaction works in a variety of institutional environments and occupational settings ranging from medicine and law to public safety and commerce. More broadly still, he is interested in ordinary conversation and the organization of interaction per se - what Erving Goffman termed the interaction order - as an institution in its own right and an elementary form of human sociality.


Contact details