Situating my work
I became interested in researching legal sites after having been involved in the legal system as a witness to a crime. This process gave me a particular view of the collection and status of legal evidence in a police investigation, courtroom trial and criminal appeal. This was combined with a vocational imperative to apply linguistics. I became interested in LE when I encountered New Literacy Studies during my MA at Lancaster University, UK. This interest developed as I felt a need to recognise the complexity of situated language use in legal sites beyond the bonds of 'mere' linguistics. I sought to build on work combining linguistic and ethnographic/anthropological elements to examine policing (for example Caldeira 2002) and law (for example Black and Metzger, 1965; Walter, 1988; Berk-Seligson 1990; Conley and O'Barr 1990; Hale 1997; Mertz 2007).
In this chapter, I recruit two sets of data. The first was collected in the police custody setting, as part of my doctoral research. The second data set is from my current research on texts and procedures of police complaints. Both projects are underpinned by related research questions about (i) how successive texts are connected through inter- textuality and recontextualisation - forming into chains (Bakhtin 1986: 93) and (ii) how individual texts contain the contributions of various speakers and writers - becoming mosaics (Kristeva 1986: 37). In addition to these theoretical questions, I have been concerned with applied research questions about how versions of texts function in practice.
Working in legal settings brings a challenge: identifying something called 'legal settings' or 'law' or even 'policing' or 'crime' is potentially divisive (see Rampton, Maybin and Roberts, discussions on 'race', this volume: 22 and 41) and contrary to the ethnographic imperative to avoid essentialising. Declaring an interest in 'the legal', or in a particular location, classroom or 'language', one implies these can be cleaved from other areas of human experience and activity. Yet for LE to be meaningful and practical it must be 'about' something. My response has been to turn situatedness into an analytic advantage. I have used a particular text (such as the police caution), procedure (such as that for handling police complaints) or interaction (such as telephoning for police assistance) to trigger and structure research. In short, the situatedness of linguistic artefacts and practices has provided coordinates through which to navigate the surrounding people, spaces and activities. In custody, for example, I started with two texts and traced their trajectories through networks of interactions and instances (Rock, Heffer and Conley 2013). This included talk during police interviews and throughout custody as well as in the wider policing world of offices, streets, canteens and parties. The two focal texts also pointed to written intertextual connections to legislation, appeal court judgements, policing guidelines, training materials, law manuals, police notebooks, cartoons, jokes and more.
Having briefly outlined my approach to LE and to my research, two worked examples show how LE has developed my understanding of policing.