Voice and context in simulated everyday legal discourse: The influence of sex differences and social ties

Calvin Morrill, Michelle Johnson, Tyler Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Everyday legal discourse refers to the spoken language with which ordinary people constitute the law-in-action. In this article, we experimentally investigate the social distribution of rule-and relationally-oriented discourse found by ethnographers in small-claims court settings. We examine the influences of sex differences and social ties between disputants on these types of discourse in a mock small-claims setting using a quantitative content coding scheme. We do not find empirical support for sex differences in the production of simulated everyday legal discourse. The relational context of a dispute (operationalized as the strength of social ties between disputants) has significant effects on the distribution of rule-and relationally-oriented discourse, so that disputants in relationally-close contexts produce more relationally-oriented discourse and those in relationally-distant contexts produce more rule-oriented discourses than those in relationally-close contexts. With these findings as a backdrop, we discuss (1) the contextual nature of sex differences in everyday legal discourse; (2) discourse "switching" and emotional investment in personal relationships, and (3) applications for our coding scheme to studies of disputing frames.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-665
Number of pages27
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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